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  • 2013 best of

    16. Dez. 2013, 12:29

    http://youtu.be/IIHH9THNRQA

    Sometimes it is the case that the albums being referenced everywhere really are just great. I know of the five or six albums that seem to be popping up on so many year end lists that I’ve read, I can say it’s true of at least two of them; the music far exceeds the hype. Looking solely at metal press, there are probably a handful of albums appearing in multiple places. Again, there is something to be said for the quality of releases this year – it has been a fantastic year, as I now intend to demonstrate. As with last year, rather than a top XX, I’ve just grouped the albums loosely into the really amazing, and the very good. It’s a big list when combined this year.

    I should also make full disclosure here that the just released Caïna release is currently winging its way to me. Everything Andy has done previously I’ve been a huge fan of, and I can only assume that’s likely to continue. In lieu if the full release, and the ability to place something so arbitrarily on a list, here is an article on the release with a sample embedded: http://www.cvltnation.com/new-tape-review-cainas-earth-inferno/

    The Best:
    17. Oathbreaker – Eros Anteros
    Combining d-beat driven hardcore breakdowns, scything sharp blackmetal guitars, and a woman with a throat of razors, Oathbreaker have given us a fantastic sophomore release. Filled with rage but with enough slowing and shifting of tempo to keep the 45 minute album interesting and fresh, Eros Anteros is a fine example of what great bedfellows blackmetal and hardcore can be when executed well. The album isn’t just Mælstrøm mark II, however it does retain the signature fierceness. Some of the sludgier moments of actual melodic build up on display here, are really impressive, and make the barking attack on other parts of the album all the more enjoyable. This is a release that’s difficult to pigeonhole; often a good sign.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/MGmDl6GQLAU[/youtube]

    16. Stara Rzeka – cie chmury nad ukrytym polem
    Wild, multi genre, hugely abrasive and often verging on directionless. I’ve not enjoyed all that many bands from Poland, often finding the acts that dabble in or around the fringes of blackmetal there, not quite to my personal taste. Stara Rzeka nails it for me though. Altohugh crazy and reckless with his sound, their remains enough rhythm and melody here, often enough, to mean this album treads the fine line of stupid crazy and amazing crazy rather well, ensuring forays onto both sides of said line. Harnessing repetition to great effect – in essence creating a rough drone, and borrowing from a multitude of styles, genres and playing techniques, this album is certainly not boring, even within the passages of repetition.
    http://stararzeka.bandcamp.com/album/cie-chmury-nad-ukrytym-polem-cd-instant-classic


    15. Urfaust – Trúbadóirí Ólta An Diabhail (Live Album), Die Erste Levitation (Single)
    Live albums can tend to be a cash grab, and so I’m usually reasonably cynical about them. I doubted that would be the case here, although with the merch machine that Urfaust drive, not beyond the realms of possibility. Whether its a cash grab or not, who cares. Urfaust are exactly as amazing live as they are rightly credited with being. A good an introduction for the uninitiated, or a brilliant aside for the dedicated fan.

    14. Seirom – Sparkle Night (Single), Goodbye Cold Nights (EP)
    Maurice De Jong (Mories) is a beast. I’ve raved about how much of a god I consider him on many occasions, so I shall skip that part this time. Seirom, his brightest most ethereal, and almost – ALMOST – palatable affair, continues to roll on apace. Capturing much of the cinematic drive of his more nefarious Gnaw Their Tongues, Seirom is celebratory music for the end of times, like Elend, Gnaw Their Tongues and Deafheaven all crashed together. Unsurprisingly, Amazing.
    http://gnawtheirtongues.bandcamp.com/album/goodbye-cold-nights

    13. The Body – Master, We Perish (EP), Christs, Redeemers (Full Length)
    Twice this year, The Body have assembled music and released it, and confounded and pissed off many both times. Two very different releases have sprung forth. Master, We Perish is raw and scratchy and broken sounding. The drums are wild, the guitars smudged and drunken, but the overall sound is amazingly coherent. It’s the vocals that seem to cause the most consternation. They are a squalling wind of howls. Lacking any real tonality, and just shrieked with very few fucks given. Following not long after, Christs, Redeemers, is a slower, more constructed affair, with thick synth, female vocals and much clearer and heavy deep guitar mix. Sitting somewhere in the spectrum of doom, blackmetal and hardcore, the band are hard to pin down, and have worked with a strange array of other artists during their short but fruitful career. I’ve been told I bear a passing resemblance to the singer. Fat bearded balding men in glasses with unusually small mouth openings unite!

    [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSOEBZ-YOHg#[/youtube]


    12. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
    If nothing else over their career, Ulver have shown a willingness to experiment and shift like few other artists I can think of. On Messe, the group offer up yet another slice of something different. Sure, this has more in common with Perdition City and Shadows of The Sun, than it does Nattens Madrigal, but its by no means a linear offsprout of anything they have done before. Thick with orchestration, with huge range between the almost bombast of some of the explosive moments and the quiet simmering, shimmering build ups. Beautifully recorded, with full wide soundstage, this release goes again to prove that at their very best, which is so often where they find themselves, Ulver are almost irresistibly good. The only thing that leaves this album sitting below the likes of Olafur Arnalds for me, is the somewhat sparse nature of the offering. Intentional no doubt, nothing these mad bastards ever do is even remotely accidental, and therefore my take on that sparseness is very much a personal matter. I prefer Ulver at their fullest sounding – be it the bombastic Blood Inside, the sombre and mournful Shadows Of The Sun, or the clattering shriek of Nattens Madrigal.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/ljVJPGMj-hs[/youtube]


    11. Olafur Arnalds – For Now I am Winter
    Where Ulver’s release of 2013 is soft and orchestral with moments of electronic relief and momentum shift, creating a broad expansive picture – a picture, not a feeling – For Now I Am Winter captures that same sort of feeling, but rends it more personal. I think the vocals by Arnor Dan and the more accessible nature of some of the tracks here, make them that little but more human, more relatable. Speaking of the vocals – they are perfectly suited to the music. Breathy, wrought, often gliding into falsetto. Uplifting, Sad, moody, epic and cinematic – Olafur is masterful in the way he shoehorns such a broad array of emotion into a seemingly small and notionally mainstream accessible space. Playing as part of 2014 PIAF, if the reviews of his life performances are anything to go by, this is shaping up to me a great show. Perhaps the landscapes of his nature Iceland are channelled, maybe it’s his own headspace, whatever it is that is being brought out here is truly marvellous to behold, and genuinely moving.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/vdPNCYj2MI0[/youtube]


    10. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
    I remember hearing the previous two Fuck Buttons albums and thinking they were OK, but that was my enduring memory; just OK. They were a bit bright and poppy almost, for my liking. Slow Focus, is immediately more memorable. It takes what they had right on Street Horrrsing and Tarot Sport, and refines it into something more, well, focused. Something more honed. Each of the tracks feels logical in a collection of sounds, and each track carries and nice development from start to finish, often through the inclusion of sounds over the base with a build up and then a reversion more quickly back to the base. I think if I were to use one word however to describe Slow Focus, it would be “big”. The sound is huge. The bass monolithic, the pads lush although abrasive, wide and deep, the trebly samples grating and metallic. Unlike their first two releases, Slow Focus is self produced. The Production is exquisite, so I can only assume as well as playing to ever increasingly large crowds, there’s a fair chance Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung may very well make a name for themselves producing dub, trip hop and electro dance in the future. Just so fucking big.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/pT6f8gVS5jw[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/3ruPS_znUFA[/youtube]

    09. Pharmakon – Abandon
    Aggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. What a great start to a great piece of noise. Covering space occupied by noise, improvisation and power electronics, Margaret Chardiet offers something somewhat beyond the norm when it comes to noise here. Feeling more structured than many noise releases, released on Sacred Bones records, Abandon is a hell of a way to announce yourself to the wider music world. As with most Sacred Bones releases, the packing is pretty amazing and artistically presented. With much noise and power electronic music, atmosphere is not particularly prominent. That’s what sets Pharmakon apart from other similar acts – there is some actual atmosphere. Droning and repetitious, but not ever fully descending into a wall of white noise, this is an interesting take on the genres in question. Although involved in fringe music scenes for a number of years, Abandon is the first full length to get wide distribution and attention by Margaret, and hopefully the first of many more to come.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/R60lYkmXeA8/[youtube]


    08. Echtra – Sky Burial
    Of all the more traditional atmospheric blackmetal I listened to this year, Sky Burial stood out above the rest. Although having said that, it isn’t exactly traditional with the atmospheric far outweighing the blackmetal on offer here. I’ve read a bunch of reviews of the album, and not all that many of them are terribly complimentary, most of them grizzling about the amount of ambient/atmospheric on offer here, instead of metal. It’s fairly obvious there hasn’t been some accidental misplacing of guitars here, the albums sounds as intended. And to me, it sounds superb. Not immediate or visceral, but slow growing and sprawled out to great effect.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/SD-BreE9TPY/[youtube]

    07. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism
    With Rage running a series of clips in recent times, it appears appears KJC may have cracked some degree of success with his first full length record. Intoned with a strong Australian accent, and without any real singing per sae – the vocal being a method of story and theme delivery in the purest sense here – the music of Kirin J Callinan is abrasive in a sort of pop rock way, with a slew of electronics and altered sound generally playing out in forceful and angular ways. Never straying far from pop sensibility, when things get a bit too whacky, there’s always an easier, gentler slice of sound on offer. Most interesting about this album are the words that are crooned, spat, and heaved up. This is an album of a deeply personal nature, even when it speaks of culture and society. A deeply persona album that engages in both a journey through some bad times, but also towards challenging precepts of masculinity. This in the end, is a deeply flawed release that at times frustrates, but one that is also deeply endearing for its honesty and nakedness at the times when it manages to keep away from cliché and hyperbole.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/028hdxGYdYE[/youtube]

    06. Tim Hecker – Virgins
    Of the albums I’ve talked about so far, this is the one that is most important to listen to at very high volumes. So deep, lush and layered is Tim Hecker’s work, that anything bar serious volume or heavily insulated high quality headphones will not do it justice. With fellow electronic bedfellows like Fennesz and Oren Ambarchi, Tim Hecker continues to create electronic music that is anything but digital or mechanical sounding. Instead, it is organic, lush and alive, capturing the same sort of wash and feel that Olafur Arnalds or Sigur Ros might using more traditional elements, and adding a harsher less uplifting feel. As with Ravedeath 1972, this is music for serious listening, and that brings serious reward for concentration.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/BOkeyqntuPw[/youtube]

    05. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
    Having been a long time fan of Chelsea Wolfe, it has been satisfying to see her/the band go from little known to quite successful in a relatively short period of time. Some time ago I received an email thanking me for at the time, being their first sale into Australia. How times have changed! Anyway, one thing that hasn’t changed is the ability of Chelsea Wolfe to make a thoroughly enjoyable album. As always, Chelsea’s voice is well back in the mix and afloat in a sea of reverb. Not to say that there is a lack of vocal ability – her voice rings true and honest, with a good dynamic range. At its core, this is a rock and electronic album, with plenty of work being done around the tones and with effects to lend it the darker more ethereal feel, now the trademark of the group. As with The Grime And The Glow and Apokalypsis, there is some inconsistency in quality on display here, but also as with the two predecessors, the end result is worth wading through the odd moment of cheese for (the album title smells a bit like cheese to me ;) ).
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/GCZ20lC3E0E[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/sJ_p55vddmo[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/RY9SQ7nrqCY[/youtube]

    04. SubRosa – More Constant Than The Gods
    I’ve always liked sludgey doom, but it’s rare I end up loving albums – I often feel they can be very good, but lacking variation and thus feeling a bit samey over the duration of an hour. Not so with SubRosa. Although ending on an experimental note with a lengthy piano and dulcimer number, it is when they stick to their roots and wash everything away with waves of guitar and violin, that More Constant Than The Gods is able to truly shine. Female fronted doom rock/metal bands have become reasonably commonplace, but SubRosa do things a little differently, and the variability within their music avoids the great pitfall of becoming mundane or too familiar to their contemporaries. Given that I find the closer No Safe Harbour a bit needless, and Cosey Mo sounding like it might be one 3 minute slash away from a commercial radio single, the fact that I still have this at my number four should hopefully say something about the strength of the rest of the tracks.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/jM0KxkjL3QY[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/7wenNqTd5hU[/youtube]

    03. Castevet – Obsian
    I really enjoyed Castevet’s first release, Mounds Of Ash, and was greatly looking forward to this new release. Like MoA, Obsian is an album rooted in blackmetal, but displaying something far from usual or familiar, thanks to the interesting infusion of post-hardcore and math rock/metal sounds. Rhythmically, the album is jarring, with constant shifting momentum, and at no times is the more traditional blackmetal wall of sound really unleashed, the instrumentation is more pointed. When the build does come, the expected pay off of an explosive run, is never realised, often it is replaced with crawling dissonance, or a turn in another direction for another build. There’s no question this is intentional. Herein lies the real difference between MoA and Obsian. The sound is still familiar and a link can be drawn to their debut, but the listening here is harder again. Demanding patience and concentration as things become more complicated and verging on muddled. Adding string bender Nick McMaster (Krallice et al.) to the lineup for Obsian has almost certainly not tempered, and may have elevated the drive by Castevet to make such twisting, writhing music.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/SaiQTUt9f1U[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/hbcyN1Ot1Ow[/youtube]

    02. Skagos – Anarchic
    The tracks on Anarchic are each quite unique. That isn’t to say that they are disparate, but simply that they each have their own character. A thread of commonality woven through each, draws them together. Released as 3 chunks (A, B, C) each movement is essentially a longer track, comprised of its bit parts. From gentle post rock ambience, bleepy almost space pop, into Agalloch or Ash Borer inspired roaring nature worship metal, anarcho-crust, neo-folk style spoken word, feverish howling, scrambling, female vocal ritual over piano accordion, back to a more traditional Cascadian type of metal, then into a finish that is equal parts Swans, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Fucked Up. So much ground is covered in reality that its utterly amazing that there is no disjoint in the flow. Instead, this amazing album feels like an outpouring, it feels as if its birth would have been fraught. I can’t help but describe this as moving; beautiful and moving. If the spoken word part at the start of slab B wasn’t included, this is my favourite release of 2013, no question. This interlude is all that breaks me out of the amazing journey that is Anarchic.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/n9BEj9gLfFA[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/cFYerMcrWkU[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/uexsZ9Ud9ZY[/youtube]

    01. Deafheaven - Sunbather
    So much has been said by so many people about Deafheaven's amazing second full length, Sunbather, that I'm not sure I can really add anything more to it, except personal perspective. For me, what makes Deafheaven so special is the way the album so effortlessly straddles such a wide spectrum of style and sound, without ever sounding forced or laboured. I can't fault it on any level. surprising (to me at least) Deafheaven seem to have convincingly cultivated the hip young things of the world over their releases, which many of the metal world are no doubt deeply alarmed by; how can something that is inherently heavy be so seemingly trendy (which implies people are only liking it because its popular to do so) or accessible (so its not really heavy, its just a trick; a sleight of hand) exist within a metal paradigm they howl - possibly using more sweary words. The concern that the family of metal might have an influx of hip outsiders seems precious to a fault. Something an early years teenager might dribble out between popping pimples and falling in love with someone because they smiled at them as they walked past them at school. The point is, that more people listening to heavier music is a win-win for everyone. No one says just because someone listens to the same music as you, you need to be best mates. It might be one of the many criteria that feeds into that social discourse; one hopes not the singular defining one. I also can't help but thinking a few more cashmere scarves at gigs would go down a real treat. Even the darklord himself almost certainly has a weakness for cashmere.

    This is an album that builds bridges, that trailblazers, that takes the foundations laid by other genre busting blackmetal influenced acts of the past decade, and does something truly unique, bright, rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable. It's always hard to know how an album might age, but I think this one might just go down as one of the best releases of the 5 or 10 year space it occupies.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/IIHH9THNRQA[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/IpblqUh_C24[/youtube]
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/Ie_6P3h-inc[/youtube]


    The Also very Good:
    Ovo – Abisso
    Year Of No Light – Tocsin
    Peste Noire – Peste Noire
    Uncle Acid And The Dead Beats – Mind Control
    Old Burial Temple - Demo
    Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
    Ash Borer – Bloodlands
    The Drones – I See Seaweed
    Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
    Young & In The Way – Young & In The Way / Withdrawal (split)
    Gris - À l'âme enflammée, l'äme constellée...
    Vallendusk – Black Clouds Gathering
    Paysage D’Hiver – Das Tor
    Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
    Author & Punisher – Women & Children
    Column of Heaven – Holy Things Are For The Holy
    Locrian – Return to Annihilation
    Woe – Withdrawal
    Portal - Vexovoid
    Red Fang – Whales And Leeches
    The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
    Drug Church – Paul Walker
    The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
    Russian Circles – Memorial
    Germ – Grief
    An Autumn For Crippled Children – Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love
    Kvelertak – Meir
    Sombre Forets – La Mort Du Soleil
    Vattnet Viskar – Sky Swallower
    Raspberry Bulbs – Deformed Worship
    Pinkish Black – Razed To The Ground
    Kylesa – Ultraviolet
    Yellow Eyes – Hammer of Night
    Dressed In Streams – The Search For Blood
    Imperium Dekadenz - Meadows of Nostalgia
    Lycus – Tempest
    Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
    Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
  • 2012 Best Of

    12. Dez. 2012, 18:51

    A show covering the best 20 or so in my top list will hopefully air 27/12 @ http://www.rtrfm.com.au/shows/behindthemirror or 92.1FM if you're in Perth, Western Australia.

    TOP ALBUMS 2012

    Jodis – Black Curtain
    Jodis is a project featuring Aaron Turner (ISIS, Old Man Gloom, Mammifer etc) and two other Hydra Head regulars – James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida. Unlike the first Jodis album, which was excellent, but somewhat uneven in terms of flow, Black Curtain feels like a journey from a beginning to an end, with a wonderful middle. The tracks are rather spartan but not lacking in variety or movement, perhaps with the influence of 2 former Khanate contributors and a member of OMG this isn’t entirely surprising. The one up-tempo thundering track that left debut album Secret House feeling somewhat disjointed is nowhere to be heard on Black Curtain, with an even tempered slow dirge being the pace of choice. The only slight break from the sonic feel of the album comes with the final track, Begger’s Hand, which is more immediate and visceral – comparatively speaking in the context of a Jodis album at least. What is surprising, is just how bittersweet this album manages to feel. Like a vague memory of a forgotten love, of a feeling of something slightly unexpected but familiar, just out of reach. At times, as is to be expected, the music is heavy; not in any chugging guitars or blasting drums sense of the word – emotionally wrought, heavy. Black Curtain is difficult to pin down, and rather than each track being a defined stylistic or melodic process, each instead seems to leave a feeling rather than a memory. I’ve read reviews that call it an itch, others an aura, an ache or a nagging feeling. The end of the album offers no answer, no sudden awakening, it just.. ends. Like their first release, I imagine this will provide excellent backing for long, lonely desert drives.
    It’s 2:46am on a Thursday as I sit alone in a dark room writing this, the air wafting through the open window next to me is hot, and a little damp thanks to yesterday afternoon’s storms. Work is just a few hours away, and I can think of few albums I would rather be listening to right now. In fact, I will probably be listening to it again as the sun rises. At times like this, the normalcy of day to day life feels like an anchor.
    In all likelihood, Black Curtain will be the last official release out via Hydra Head (which Aaron Turner has run the past 12 or so years), which is a great shame. Not only because Hydra Head have released some amazing music over the years, but because this is also the likely end of Jodis who with Black Curtain have released an absolute monolith of emotion and mood.
    Listen:http://youtu.be/6ZlbM9rrJe4


    Bosse-de-Nage – III
    I heard the first 2 releases from Bosse-De-Nage after reading some fairly glowing reviews and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Neither were terrible by any stretch. II was certainly well written, intense and a good listen, but far from unique, not particularly well mixed and flirting with styles that the band didn’t seem to be particularly comfortable with integrating into the songs. III rectifies most of these issues, and capitalises and builds on what II got so very right.
    Although III still isn’t the cleanest recording on earth, it sounds far superior to earlier efforts, and suits very well the mood and style of the album. Ultimately this is a blackmetal album, albeit one that carries very clear musical hallmarks of hardcore and post metal. The songs are varied, interesting and not too predictable in most cases, making for some surprising song development. The vocals remain set back in the mix which works to great effect when the lyrics are being howled, but I’d prefer to hear the clean vocals (which are mostly spoken, rather than sung), sit forward more than they do so they are actually more easily heard. Having a spoken passage in a song suggests clarity of what is being said is actually important thematically.
    Like the Jodis album I have as my favourite for this year, III feels emotional. I guess this is where these arguments about whether bands like Bosse-De-Nage are actually playing blackmetal come into the equation. There is little cold about III. It is alive and writhing. It soothes itself and explodes, it wanes and roars forward. The final track, An Ideal Ledge is almost certainly my favourite song for the year.
    Lyrically, the album is filled with literary references, and self examining moments of question and clarity – far more interesting and necessary of digest than their most often connected genre might suggest.
    Like Deafheaven, there are songs and parts of songs on III that will appeal far beyond the bounds of traditional blackmetal fans.
    Bosse-De-Nage also released a split with Deafheaven, and have toured with them and the two sounds are not entirely dissimilar. Deafheaven are by far the better known of the bands, so hopefully with the release of III and their work with Deafheaven, Bosse-De-Nage get some love, because III is a cracking album, filled with interesting nuances and stylistic flourishes
    Listen: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/tracks/13688-the-god-ennui/


    Wreck and Reference – Youth
    Although titled with a strikethrough, I’m just going to call it No Youth – it’s much easier than strikethroughing each time, because I’m too lazy to memorise the shortcut keys and do it via the menu.
    Wreck and Reference’s first release, Black Cassette was all howling clean emo vocals, short sharp songs with rock / metal sensibility and a feisty attitude played by 3 guys. No Youth is a completely different beast, and involves 1 less member. Aside from the often Brian Molko sounding vocal style, pretty much everything else is different. The clean vocals are quite distinct though, so the albums do tie together, albeit vaguely.
    Musically, there is a huge variety of styles at play. It’s actually difficult to describe. Some touchstones include Deine Lakaien, Darkthrone, Coil, Ash Borer, Godflesh and Jesu – Hell there’s even a point at which later era Arcturus is momentarily channelled. Sounds like a bunch of stuff that doesn’t go together right? I just can’t give a genre, or even series of genres, or specific bands that really describe the sound produced here. Ambiguous, and muddled at times, but always engaging and never lacking musicality, frenetic at times, lush and wallowing at others, No Youth is a wild ride and very well summed up by a quite from Felix during an interview with Invisible Oranges:
    “If youth is the avoidance of the miseries of reality to which we are entitled, the album is an embrace of these miseries.”
    Listen: http://youtu.be/ViLf1qKHRqk


    Hexvessel – No Holier Temple
    Where Hexvessel’s debut, Dawnbearer, was a folk album with some rock / psychedelia influences changing the dynamic of the music, No Holier Temple is more at heart a doomy psychedelic rock album, that retains folk references. Thematically, nature and the human connection to and within nature remain at the core of things. Like Dawnbearer, the sound on No Holier Temple is rich, detailed and heavily layered. The 70’s sounding buzzing guitar almost leaps out of the speakers and the vocals are mixed perfectly in the balance – on the subject of vocals, Matt McNerney really nails it on this one. I wasn’t a huge fan of his clean vocals on the last Code record, and I felt on Dawnbearer they were at times a little strained, here they sit perfectly and are a testament to just how much he has evolved vocally in a short period of time – Sacred Marriage in particular, with the little flourishes is really fucking amazing. I’m not entirely convinced the more pure 70’s rock style towards the last couple of songs works as well as the rest of the album, but these are still great songs in their own right and probably only stand out as weaker because of the sheer strength of the preceding music.
    Svart have a habit of realising amazingly high audio quality, given this, and the warm fuzzy guitared drive, No Holier Temple, like Dawnbearer, is really REALLY worth getting on vinyl over digital. I have the CD, Vinyl and FLAC and there is no doubt that through the right amp, into some decent speakers on a good deck, this is a really special listen.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/hbIofZoCX4c


    Winterfylleth – The Threnody of Triumph
    I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of UKBM. Bands like Akercocke, Meads of Asphodel, Cradle of Filth, Hecate Enthroned and Anaal Nathrakh do very little for me, and the only two bands I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve really gotten into have been Caina and Fen. Having said all that, The Threnody of Triumph is an excellent blackmetal album from the motherland, so maybe I can add Winterfylleth to the list. There’s no re-writing of the rules contained herein, nor is there anything that we haven’t in some form heard before, but what Winterfylleth do, they do particularly well. There are aspects of folk/pagan metal wound into a predominantly blackmetal sound, and they make use of acoustic passages with reasonable regularity to ensure there is a break from the constant pummelling. They also throw in some post-rock inspired breakdowns to this same end.
    Compelling, if not terribly groundbreaking English blackmetal.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/f_umbC6DjwM


    Stagnant Waters – Stagnant Waters
    A band featuring a former member of DHG and current member of Fluerety and Zweizz, a member of Smohalla and a member of Pryapisme? Yes fucking please. And so here it is. When word of such a beast being conceived reached my ears, they almost bled with an impulsive delight, for surely this was finally to be the act that should have followed 666 international in expanding far beyond the boundaries of common extremity in metal. Hinting at Thorns, DHG, Shining (NOR) and carrying trademark touches that certainly link back to some of the contributors other past and current projects, Stagnant Waters’ debut is a brutal gut punch. Even the quieter electronic moments, feel ragged and on the edge of collapse into sheer chaos – the entire record seems to sound like it sits on the edge of a precipice, constantly scrambling to stay on the side of sanity long enough to ensure the end result is musical, rather than just mad crashing improv.
    The wailing sax that pops up at various times throughout is a real highlight for me, as are the vocals that echo back to the barely contained madness first unleashed on 666 International.
    To call this the album Supervillain Outcast should have been is probably unfair. This is far less structured than any logical progression from 666 probably could have been without sounding a bridge too far at the time, and quite frankly, it would detract from the effort and work put into this magnificent beast.
    As of writing this, I’ve had this album only a matter of weeks, and listened to it maybe 5 or 6 times. It grows on me with each listen, it’s eccentricities seep out more and more, and I suspect 6 months from now, this will still be on heavy rotation.
    Also, I’m pretty sure at one point they throw in a song intro which is actually a sneaky manipulation of the intro to Alice Cooper’s Poison.
    The presentation of the whole thing with a 7” EP style booklet really adds to the uniqueness of the product as well (although the Yurei album, Night Vision, is also presented the same way).
    Listen: http://youtu.be/ps5KKExVhqU


    Northumbria – Northumbria
    Some albums are best listened to through headphones, others in cars, Northumbria’s debut, as the liner message notes, is best listened to at maximum volume. Never a truer word. Mixed by James Plotkin, the sound produced by Jim Field and Dorian Williamson is a huge lumbering thing, but is treated so gently by the generous mix. Like the Jodis release, Northumbria are a sometimes sparse entity, built around sonic soundscapes rather than tightly structured songs in a typical sense. Where Jodis create a sense of emotional disparity, Northumbria is more about a pure aural experience. The tracks that rely less on the upfront big guitar, whilst having less immediacy in their impact, are the real success here ; brooding, moody and trancelike, they are enthralling in the dark through large speakers, and really wash out and over you. Ultimately, this is probably best described as a drone album. Far removed from the likes of Sunn O))), Northumbria are altogether more subtle and considered, with a greater tenderness to their sound. I remember going to see EitS as part of PIAF a few years back. Northumbria sound like they should be opening for those guys – a logical lead-in to a show of building post-rock, with a crowd softened and peeled open by Northumbria.
    The packaging is of note as well, with the whole thing presented as an A5 booklet with loose glossy pictures included.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/73MXOeC74p4


    Dordeduh – Dar-De-Duh
    Where I said it would unfair to call Stagnant Waters the album Supervillain Outcast should have been, Dar-De-Duh is definitely the album Vîrstele Pamîntului should have been, which isn’t that surprising given most of the members of Negura Bunget, are actually now playing as Dordeduh. Like OM, the last really shatteringly good Negura Bunget album, Dar-De-Duh is steeped in Romanian mysticism, folk and heavily influenced by a naturalistic outlook. Musically, it sits firmly within the blackmetal paradigm, but at the more folk, prog and atmospheric end of things. The songs are structured beautifully, the vocals remain a mix of rough growls and chanting, and the progressive structures really lend an air of musicianship to the compositions. As with OM, there are some real moments of intense blessed out ambient atmosphere that litter the more frenetic moments, which add a great contrast to the sounds. The recording quality and mixing is, IMHO, an improvement over OM, which was slightly busy sounding when things got particularly complex. Dar-De-Duh sounds clear, but still has a slight murkiness that lends a “thick” atmosphere to the tracks.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/bG9Fu2Hu3DM


    Purity Ring – Shrines
    My love of this duo will possibly come as a surprise to some people. It certainly isn’t my usual fare, but there is some really vital and captivating about the sound they make. Part witch house, part grimy electro, part pop, but always awesome and slick. The oversaturated mix, which phases and distorts at times sounds really wonderful to me, and the slow, almost lazy loops and song structures sound slightly more emotive and deep than they’ve any right to. I think I found these guys via Zola Jesus and Chelsea Wolfe, although Purity Ring are certainly far more pop oriented than either of the former, they do still have that slightly dark feel to their music – not unlike the feeling and universe that Fever Ray build. Ostensibly, Fever Ray are almost comical at times, and utterly over the top try hard at others, yet they retain an otherworldly charm which is compelling. Same sort of thing applies here for Purity Ring. The songs are simple, they certainly won’t be troubling Andy Stott or Author and Punisher for the best electro release of the year for most diehard fans of electronic discomfort, but to hell with it. I just really like what these two are doing.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/wVcOwVD4V30


    Ides of Gemini – Constantinople
    Black Sabbath meet Jucifer. Best way I can think of to describe the sound of Ides of Gemini in simple terms. Doomy rock sort of stuff then, with a slightly more experimental/rock backbone, and female vocals. But still, at heart, doom rock. I also noticed in an interview, guitarist J. Bennett was asked what the 5 most important albums to him were. 4 of those 5, would be in 5 I gave. Mad props. Sera Timms voice is what really sets this aside from other similar albums. It lends a weight that the songs might not otherwise have, and probably lifts this album into the great, rather than just good. The songs themselves are well composed and interesting, but it really is the vocal work that brings this together and gives it such a beguiling strength. I’ve seen this album reviewed by a lot of metal zines and the like, but for me, this simply isn’t a metal album, and that’s part of what makes it so great. It’s something else entirely. Some of the softer moments, most notably Resurrectionists, are reminiscent of This Mortal Coil at their best, with a grittier edge.
    It might not be my absolute favourite of the year, but I have certainly spent a hell of a lot of time listening to this, particularly when arriving home from work.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/qVKaTPpRTsE


    Drohtnung – Drohtnung
    And now to return to my more commonly associated stomping ground. Blackmetal. There were only really two blackmetal albums this year that for me captured that early essence of nasty degrading cold claustrophobic blackmetal. The Drohtnung release was one of those, the other is coming up next. Loosely classed as depressive blackmetal (don’t get me wrong, this is bleak in the truest sense of the word, but most DSBM isn’t like this), Drohtnung takes a cliché` sound, and sucks all the life right out of it, leaving a shattered husk – in the best possible way. Unrelenting, bleak and crushing, finally an album that really carries the tag of depressive well, and that actually sounds depressive, bleak and claustrophobic – words that are used far too openly and willingly to describe music that is often only hinting at that sort of weight.
    None of this is to say that there isn’t more than just sheer bleakness to be heard here. The mix is harsh and initially difficult to penetrate, but repeated listens are rewarded with nuances and subtle movement in the music that add significantly to the initial sound, and make this a record that is worth listening to repeatedly.
    I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon of promoting bands from the place I call home, in fact, I think I’ve only really pushed hard on Samain’s Indomitus and the works of Disease Process and The Hunt – not to say there haven’t been some great local albums, but just not albums which have really connected with me. Although this year there have been two, another comes later in the piece.
    Definitely worth listening to loud and with a few bottles of red wine.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/tkYoUvaBJok


    Nihill - Verdonkermaan
    Like the Drohtnung album, Verdonkermaan is a very bleak, very stark and unhappy affair. Stylistically it is vastly different, but it retains that same sense of claustrophobia and coldness; again, labels that are so often attached to artists that lack any real sense of such.
    Although initially sounding buzzy – like buzzsaw buzzy – a few minutes in it becomes clear that whilst the guitars are in fact incredibly scratchy and trebly, the overall production here is quite bright – which is surprisingly when comparing to the feel of the album. Most of the things I said about Drohtnung hold true here. Although stylistically different, this is icy cold, unforgiving blackmetal at its finest.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/LD1492qn2bs


    Yurei – Night Vision
    Night vision is an album that should be listened to in one sitting. The songs work fine as bite sized pieces of a whole, but when listened to as one long adventure, they really come together. Each songs leads stylistically into the next, so when listened to all at once, there is the experience of one big jam. This does sound like jam music too, Zappa infused prog rock, with metal leanings. The vocals alone mean comparisons with Virus are difficult to avoid on some level, but this is something entirely different to Virus, putting aside the immediate comparison generating vocals.
    Yurei’s first release, Working Class Demon was a heavier affair than Night Vision. Night Vision dials the heavy down significantly in favour of experimentation and stylishly aloof song constructs, most of the time. There are certainly moments of heavier music, and in these moments Yurei start to sound quite like Virus. I prefer the moments when they don’t, if I want a Virus record, I’ll listen to one.
    The vocals are probably my least favourite part of this album, but thankfully, the focus is mostly placed on the music.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/TP7q0sjMgu4


    Verdunkeln – Weder Licht Noch Schatten
    Verdunkeln are a very unique sounding band. They are identifiably blackmetal, but quite unlike any other band around. Their guitars sound is more akin to what one might normally expect from a doom metal band, and they favour chords rather than slashing riff work. The bass guitar sounds lazy and reminiscent of 80’s or 90’s goth rock bands, rather than punchy or deep and rumbling. Well recorded and full sounding, the cleaner vocals are a nice point of difference when they are used, being again, quite unique to the band. Even the harsher vocals are not delivered in a traditional scream or howl, but rather a sort of low spoken rasp. The songs are plodding and considered rather than galloping or scything speed fests, but still feel rooted firmly in the familiar and traditional, however ostensibly non traditional the elements that make up each song may seem.
    5 years have passed since the band released their second album, Einblick In Den Qualenfall, and the music on Weder Lict Noch Schatted is a logical progression of that already unique sound, and thoroughly enjoyable.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/QxZeKpgOLjA


    Mutilation Rites – Empyrean
    Most years there tends to be a particular galloping rock fused blackmetal album that does it for me. From memory, last year it was Taake. This year it’s the first full length my Mutilation Rites, a band who’s output I’ve been acquiring for some time now, mostly courtesy of the awesome Gilead Media label. Although calling it a full length is probably taking the piss a little bit, at just 35 minutes. Although, this release isn’t the only one that does that in my list, so I can’t complain too bitterly. There’s also the fact that the band mix a fairly healthy dose of crusty/hardcore style into their music, which often lends itself towards shorter album lengths, and I do particularly like the fluid moves between blast beat and d-beats.
    Anyway, minor gripes aside, I find this, like most of the other releases by Mutilation Rites, to be a thoroughly entertaining album. Coarse, and fast, but also quite bright sounding in terms of the recording quality, the end result is ultimately a satisfying if short slab of rocking blackmetal.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/XgZi-wgkMYI


    Sutekh Hexen – Larvae
    Sutekh Hexen – Behind The Throne

    It’s been a hell of a good year for music that doesn’t sit comfortably within genre, but is resoundingly bleak or melancholy on the whole. Sutekh Hexen are noise experimentalists for the most part. There is some guitar, and a reasonable variety of what there is, but it isn’t a primary musical device. The music is unrelentingly dark – there are at best lesser shades of grey, rather than lighter moments. When the guitars to heavy up though, there is clearly some passing resemblance to blackmetal, mostly without drums. Of the two LP’s released this year, Behind The Throne is the most immediately musical sounding of the two, and probably the more tortured, rather than plainly dark, making extensive use of distorted screams and vocal noise. Probably not really likely to impress people that find this sort of noisey black experimentalism passé, but likely to be right at home with those that dig it. It’s difficult to really sum up what these albums sound like, as across their duration they cover so much territory sonically, but they are bleak and utterly enthralling.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/rTNcKiW1W9Q


    Baroness – Yellow & Green
    From cluttered at times formless noise, to Baroness’ most commercially accessible album to date. There are metal purists that are likely to be put off by the continuing evolution of Baroness from heavy metal to hard rock band, but they’ve been going that way for a while now, really, since the Red album, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Split over 2 CD or 4 LP’s, oddly enough Yellow and Green, Baroness here are finally filling the potential they always hinted at. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind their heavier music, but they always sounded a little forced, and their more rock moments really shone as their more successful IMHO. So here they embrace it fully. The heavier of the albums, Yellow, is still pretty accessible, easy to get into and groovy. It even has a few very obvious single (Takes My Bones Away, Eula – as does green mind you, with Board Up The House). Green is a more mellow affair, feeling a little bit more personal, and probably misses the nail a little compared to Yellow, but is still pretty good in its own right.
    I’ve never felt the endless comparisons to Mastodon have been entirely fair when it comes to Baroness, and Yellow & Green will probably finally put an end to that, as they have strayed far closer to a commercial sound than I can ever imagine Mastodon doing. Part of this purely down to John Baizley’s ability to carry a much more rock vocal sound so effectively. His voice is significantly more emotive and expressive in his mostly softer tones.
    Given the significant injuries he sustained in the recent bus crash, it’s likely to be a while before much new comes out of these guys, but at least they’ll have plenty of time to write.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/2O4D5jNzv28


    Seirom – 1973
    De Magia Veterum – The Deification
    Gnaw Their Tongues – Eschatological Scatology

    There’s no secret about my love of most things that Maurice De Jong (Mories) tends to do musically. He has a knack of making music that treads that very fine line between being completely impenetrable, and utterly horrifyingly crystalline. He has released a few bits and pieces under the Seirom moniker now, and what has become clear is that the works presented here, are intended as something significantly less harrowing than the works released under Aderlating, De Magia Veterum, Cloak of Altering or the work he is probably best known for, Gnaw Their Tongues. 1973 still has the incredibly dense layering, the wash of sound, and a blackmetal aesthetic in the way the guitars and drums are presented, but there is something much brighter about the sound. It sounds to me like Sigur Ros and Gnaw Their Tongues meeting with Nadja. Normally something from Mories spread over 2 discs would sound like a terrifying prospect. Not because the music is bad, but just the sheer weight and relentlessness of his usual work would make that a big ask. Here though, the choral undercurrent and wash really lifts the music to a place that makes it much more palpable and fabulous to bliss out to.
    He released Gnaw Their Tongues and De Magia Veterum albums this year as well – ultimately they follow the path beaten in the earth by their predecessors, and are very much worth taking the time to listen to, but the most impressive, unexpected and vital release from Mories this year, is definitely 1973.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/TCrBDbc1GrU


    Drowning Horse – Drowning Horse
    Doom metal. That’s what this is. And it’s done so damn well. Not quite typical of the genre, so as to be a little off centre, probably helped by some of the members hardcore leanings, but still full of crushing doomy goodness. The mix is one of the most impressive things here, with a perfect balance of fuzz and cleanliness in the recording to give the album a dense but cold feel. The willingness to embrace electronic manipulation so openly is also welcome, and something that i’ve found odd other doom bands don’t do so much of. Incredibly raw sounding and visceral, this LP has found itself spinning a hell of a lot, mostly late at night.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/-mawT59n4Ms




    ALSO VERY GOOD

    Panopticon – Kentucky
    I think Kentucky is probably the only concept album to feature on my list this year. Most concept albums irk me in one way or another, maybe it’s the fact that by their nature, they are to dome degree forced, rather than an organic expression of something. Either way, Kentucky has really grabbed me. Upon release, the reviews were certainly mixed, and there didn’t seem to be a middle ground; love or hate. Love for me. I’ve no concept of the struggles of those living in the Appalachian regions, the traumas and trials they have lived through, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy this album and in doing so gain some feel as to the struggles of people in that part of the world, in the not so distant past. Probably the only thing stopping me putting this above the line so to speak, in my best of, is the lack of content when some of the bridging tracks are removed, and the somewhat disconnectedness of the elements at play within the songs.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/nAUtCa13V38

    The Men – Open Your heart
    Ok, so I’m not really a massive fan of fairly standard sounding punk as a general rule, but this album slays. There isn’t anything you haven’t heard in one way or another here, and there are certainly accusations about them being derivative that hold weight, but to me, it just doesn’t matter its nailed so well. Who cares if they wear their influences so obviously? This is another LP that I’ve spent a lot of time spinning this year – it really does come to life in analogue. If you’ve heard the Damned, Husker Du, or the Buzzcocks, you know what this is more or less going to sound like. But fuck me if it doesn’t sound vital, alive and of its own in 2012.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/en1lfsSaOqw

    Deathspell Omega – Drought
    Drought is a very short sharp peice of Deathspell Omega. It sounds exactly like DSO, just very abbreviated. Which depending on your outlook on things, is either a very good thing, or a sufferable thing. For me, I’d prefer a “full length” as I like when their sound has time to really washout and get lost in itself. Still totally worth having and listening to though.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/-6Agvhu6t5A

    Bleakwood & Azoth – Split
    This sits comfortably on the back of the DSO release, not least of all because Azoth clearly take some of their inspiration from said band. The Azoth side of this 7” is also a short sharp series of DSO style (that is to say, winding instrumentally diverse and dissonant) blackmetal tracks that are perfectly executed. Bleakwood similarly play a classical progressive blackmetal, but indulge in a longer single track that has a similar feel.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/B1mG_Lu_gTw

    Ekadzati & Bleakwood – Split
    The track from Bleakwood presented here, is a more straight forward affair than that heard on the split with Azoth, and generally morefrenetic. As with the Azoth split though, the quality remains exceptionally high. Ekadzati provide a more raw and primal sound to the split, with snarled distorted vocals and scything dissonant guitar runs, and a much harsher mix. The deep bass rumbling around in the track is a magnificent juxtaposition to all the sharpness of the vocals, guitar and drum work. As far as I’m aware, this was sold in physical media only via a Kickstarter (and made available digititally to Kickstarter backers) and the only real problem, is that at a grand total of 6:51, this journey ends altogether too soon.

    Krallice – Years Past Matter
    Probably Krallice’s most accomplished release to date – no mean feat in a pretty amazing catalogue – but outside my faves in such a busy year. As with previous Krallice albums, the temp is high, the guitars scorching and uniquely played for that atmosphere they are best known for. Trebly, fast and as usual, really interesting and dense blackmetal. Probably home to this years best riffs I think.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/CVGrJUDNM9s

    Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
    The fact that B4L is essentially pop music, gives me some vague hope that all is not lost with the yoof. It also reminds me about what a cancer MTV and affiliates full of Wife Beater Brown, Lilly OMGPOORME Allen and whatever other vapid empty shitty shells of people are in vogue, Have become. I particularly like the gentle use of horns on this album.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/UznHTBZIa8E

    Rhinocervs – RH-12
    Rhinocervs – RH-13

    RH-14 was also released this year, but it didn’t do much for me. Both 12 and 13 are excellent though. Low-Fi, kvlt as fuck, old school cold blackmetal on tape.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/KLCm8gvm2yo

    Pinkish Black – Pinkish Black
    Black metal / post punk infused doomy bleepy synth laced stuff. Hard to explain. Really awesome to listen to.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/F7tR0zn3zo0

    Preterite – Pillar of Winds / Menace Ruine – Alight in Ashes
    I’ve lumped these two together, because whilst they vary significantly from a musical standpoint, although built on a similar structure, they are tied together by the very unique and immediately recognisable vocals of Geneviève. Preterite is the mellower of the pair, with guitar taking a back seat to more electronic manipulations, but the music is still droney, and rooted in folk as well as electro. Menace Ruine, as usual blend martial, industrial and touches that verge on blackmetal, again, in a very droning style, to create a heavier, darker atmosphere than Preterite. Both excellent.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/mLFY_7h2kmg

    Bell Witch – Longing
    Sludgey slow droning doom. The guitars aren’t tuned as low, or distorted as heavily as most doom tends to be, but it works really well. The vocals are mostly sung rather than growled or screamed etc, in long breathy passages.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/o4j5uJl0U2M

    Wildernessking – The Writings of Gods in The Sand
    Pretty awesome blackmetal from Seth Efrica. Plenty of ebb and flow to the music and changeups etc keeping it interesting. Vocals could do with sitting back a little in the mix though, as they are a bit grating, in a non-awesome way.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/xcbliwus_Pk

    Blut aus Nord – 777 Cosmosophy
    Significantly mellower than the previous 2 components of the 777 trilogy, still very interesting and entertaining, although IMHO, not as strong as parts 1 and 2. However, when listened to as part of that trilogy as a whole, it makes a lot more sense.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/Y3krELtQpSw

    Death Grips – The Money Store
    More angry weird frantic hip hop. Pretty frenetic rate of writing and recording thus far, with 4 official full length releases out in under 18 months.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/W43aQxzjyeM

    Ash Borer – Cold of Ages
    The latest output from Ash Borer hasn’t blown me away as much as their early efforts. It was a late release this year to maybe it needs time to grow, but on initial listens, some of the desperation and rawness that made them so great seems to have been honed into something more mature, which will please many, but not so much me. I liked them for their angsty take on stuff.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/0RAFwiRAY5A

    A Dead Forest Index – Antique
    Although short, I have thoroughly enjoyed this odd sounding work of goth style rock stuff. The vocals are particularly interesting, having a very androgynous sound.
    Listen: http://youtu.be/ZaGmcn2okEc



    ALSO PRETTY GREAT

    Horseback – Half Blood
    Inverloch – Dark | Subside (I really need to listen to this more.. if it’s even remotely as good as the work they did all those years ago >.<)
    Swans – The Seer
    Vattnet Viskar – Vattnet Viskar
    Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I
    Dodkvlt – III: Domĭni Ascensiōnem
    Dodsengel – imperator
    Samothrace – Reverence to Stone
    Grimes – Visions
    Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay
    A Forest of Stars – A Shadowplay For Yesterdays
    Germ – Loss
    Desiderii Marginis - Procession
    Dead Can Dance – Anastasis
    Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
    Author & Punisher – Ursus Americanus
    Cold In Berlin – And Yet
    Godspeed You! Black Emperor – 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
    Vaura – Selenelion
    Chelsea Wolfe – Unknown Rooms
    Frank Ocean – Channel Orange



    DISSAPOINTMENTS

    Drudkh – Eternal Turn of The Wheel
    I think back to the earlier Drudkh albums, and am somewhat saddened by this latest release. It’s not terrible by any means, but its just, plain. It lacks the flair and uniqueness that set Forgotten Legends, Autumn Aurora and particularly Blood in Our Wells, aside from what other bands were doing. It feels like they’ve lost their special sparkle completely.

    Katatonia – Dead End Kings
    Boring. Uninspired.

    Burzum – Umskiptar
    This just feels very, blaaaaand.

    Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
    There’s nothing particularly wrong with this album. I just can’t help but feeling Nachtmystium’s releases peaked in mid career and are really falling away now. Their popularity is probably higher than ever, but the spark seems to be gone.

    Deafheaven & Bosse-de-Nage – Split
    I don’t have it in my grubby little hands yet, to talk about :/. I have a message saying it has shipped though :D!

    My Dying Bride – A Map of All Our Failures
    This sounds exactly like MDB, and is much better than Evinta. It doesn’t sound like MDB at their best though. Another band releasing this, wouldn’t disappoint me, it just wouldn’t blow my trumpet, but I guess I expect more from these guys – which is unfair, and that’s why it’s just as well this entire list is about my opinions alone.
  • 2011 Best of

    12. Dez. 2011, 12:51

    1 DeafheavenRoads to Judah
    I guess the choices I tend to make in my top list this year, and the trend more generally within my metal tastes at least, has been towards the style of music Deafheaven play. Passionate, not afraid to mix in outright post-rock, hardcore, punk, lo-fi and folk influences, but still unquestionably brutal at times. Deafheaven are a fairly new bunch of kids on the block (they are very young, so kids is apt), but the sound they make sounds supremely accomplished and mature. Effortlessly mixing styles and creating a strong atmosphere not of dread, as much blackmetal music tends to, but of something vaguely otherworldly. They sound fresh and unbound by the framework of the genres that they straddle. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an album that sits within all that is “black”, but it has noticeable shades of colour and flair littered throughout, and feels truly dynamic in its approach.
    The music itself is dense and the vocals sit well behind the music in the mix. The drums during the heavier passages are some of the most frenetic I’ve heard in a long time. There are regular breaks from the frenetic blasting though, that seemed so perfectly well timed in creating an amazing balance. So many blackmetal bands rely solely on blasting momentum, that the music feels single paced or lacking in intensity – no matter how intense it is – I find I become accustomed to it. In breaking free and allowing room for the sound to move and build, the intensity during those blasting presented here, feels so much more real and visceral.
    Lyrically, there is no mention of forests, satan or the mystical. The album is one of urban and city based malaise. Adding to the band’s intend on not being pigeonholed amongst purely blackmetal derived styles, the LP was released in a luscious package by Jake Bannon’s (Converge) Deathwish Inc. Label.
    Of all the blackmetal type albums to come out this year, I think this is the one I would be most forward in pressing to people that are historically fans of less heavy brands of rock, not because it isn’t heavy as all hell at times, but because the musicality of the songs lifts them beyond a simple assessment of heaviness.
    I spent a bunch of this year wondering if Liturgy or WITTR would end up being my favourite album for the year. In the end, it was a band that does create music in a similar vein, but that does so without some of the laboured weight of WITTR, and without the at times embarrassing waffle and scene combaticism of Liturgy.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/bOH_ORa0po4[/youtube]

    2 Tim HeckerRavedeath 1972 (& the related Dropped Pianos)
    Released on Kranky, Ravedeath is Hecker’s 6th full length. I’ve always enjoyed Hecker’s work, but never found any one of his prior works to be a fully enveloping experience. Sure, there were wonderfully crafted elements, and some really standout songs, but overall, they didn’t feel entirely immersive; something I think is of critical importance when making what is essentially ambient art. However, with Ravedeath, I think he has completely nailed it.
    The album is a wonderfully immersive ambient ride into strangely familiar, but hard to define territories. The heavy reliance on the church pipe organ as the base for the sampling and core of the music really does lend an ethereal feel to the rise and fall of the waves of sound. The “live” nature of the recordings (the basic organ work was completed in a single day) adds a sonic depth to the sound, the result of the sound echoing deeply around the large open church. The album feels, at times, despondent, at others, a little ragged and desperate, but always immersive and capable of taking the listener on a journey somewhere slightly out of sight.
    Darker than previous outings, Ravedeath continues Hecker’s trend of strongly themed albums, dealing with the concept of sonic waste and garbage noise (without resulting to creating grating or sonically wasteful music); the conflict between the electronic and the organic. The constant conflict between the booming airy organ, and the synthetic additions tie nicely back into the theme, and create an incredibly potent depth of sound.
    This album has replaced Bohren & der Klub of Gore’s, Black Mass, as my late night, super early morning, raining outside and cold, or coming down and drunken, listen of choice.
    Dropped Piano’s is a stripped back, “unplugged” if you like, set of pieces inspired by the works on Ravedeath, which was also released this year, and well worth listening. It is significantly less rewarding as a standalone release, but a superb companion piece to Ravedeath.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/QUpA8R01d50[/youtube]

    3 Peste NoireL'Ordure à l'état Pur
    I like Peste Noire, a lot. No great secret. Having said that, I’m not a loyal customer, so to speak, of bands generally. See the inclusion of Burzum, Mastodon or Opeth in the “misses” part of my 2011 assessment for proof of that. However, Peste Noire are yet to release an album that has not been a wonderful aural adventure for me to go on.
    L'Ordure à l'état Pur is immediately recognizable as a PN release – La Sale Famine de Valfunde’s scratchy, coughed and spat, easily audible and insistent French vocals combined with a trademark grimy guitar sound guarantee there will be no confusion. As with the previous few releases, the production is top notch and the brand of “blackmetal” purveyed, is far from orthodox or easy to pigeonhole. Techno Blast beats, horns (which absofuckinlutely OWN), cello, female vocal, samples of sexual ecstasy, gun fire and sirens all make an appearance. Usually those mixes would imply something like Dodheimsgard, later Ulver or fellow Frenchies Pensees Nocturnes for the sampling and such, or some terrible southern American swill rock for the gunshots and orgasming; make no mistake though – this album is nothing like any other out there. It is still very firmly rooted in folksy/ugly/punky/raw blackmetal-ish stuff, just with lots of gritty, dirty odd musical adornments. There is greater use of slower less frenetic pounding, as well as a more pronounced development of the folksy side of the sound. In fact it sits less obviously within the cusp of blackmetal, than any previous PN release, containing less outright blast beating or tremolo picking moments than any previous effort.
    If you enjoyed the progression of Folkfuck Folie through Ballade Cuntre Io Anemi Francor, and like the sound of that taken even further past traditional limitations of the rawer styled blackmetal, with a heady dose of a raw drunk swagger, gypsy aesthetic, punk and pure self indulgent strangeness thrown into the mix, then L'Ordure à l'état Pur will be right up your alley.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/G_9Gu8TNo9I[/youtube]

    4 Chelsea WolfeApokalypsis
    I really liked the first full length Chelsea Wolfe release, and made no secret of it. However, over time some aspects of it certainly grew to irritate me. The music itself was solid, no doubting that, but it felt piecemeal, and unnecessarily disjointed.
    Apokalypsis suffers none of this. Each track feels like it belongs to part of a whole. The flow over the course of the album is superb, and although more coalesced, there is no hint of restraint, or a lack of movement within the sound, leading it to stagnate. Rather, it is a more focussed, more directed approach. Tracks like Noorus, Bounce House Demons and Widow from the debut, The Grime and The Glow are the most related to the focus of Apokalypsis. Of course, Chelsea Wolfe has a reasonably distinct voice, so there was never any doubting the albums origins on first listen, even if some of the clunking electronic experimentation is gone.
    The elements of country-like doom (ala Earth) are more prevalent, lending the album a hazy southern swagger, and the record’s more refined sound actually lends it a darker edge, due to the continuum created.
    Released by Pendu sound, a reasonably odd little label, that features the drone/electro project of now actress Sasha Grey, Chelsea Wolfe has probably had a greater degree of exposure than might be normal for this style of music. This has certainly been helped along by what I consider to be an at times odd comparisons to Austra and Zola Jesus, born from web outlets such as Pitchfork and Stereogum really championing the darker indie/electro sounds that are out there.
    For my ears, Apokalypsis sounds like an album PJ Harvey might have recorded with Kurt Cobain (y’know, death aside and all) five or 10 years ago, if she had been heavily into web culture and heroin, if they both were actually 35 years in the past.

    My only real complaint about Apokalypsis, is the washed out sound. I know its intentional, but I find it a little too washed out and hazy to be entirely successful. Having said that, I suspect this is an album I will continue listening to for a long time to come, even if it isn’t fully realised, because it feels like it sits on the cusp of something really special.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/D1KBjgF3J90[/youtube]

    5 Ash BorerAsh Borer
    Ash Borer came as somewhat of a revelation to me. There are a lot of bands making music in the vein of Wolves In The Throne Room, or “Cascadian” blackmetal as it has been loosely dubbed, and a lot of those bands are making pretty poor music. Low quality recording works when it is applied to the right type of metal, and more specifically blackmetal. Cascadian/Pacific Northwest styled blackmetal, is not the right style. The density of the music and thick atmosphere really need a half decent production to be heard properly. Ash Borer, nail it. They balance atmospheric moments, pounding blastbeats, chortling screams, crusty punk influenced breakdowns, post-rock segues and anger in a perfect dance.
    Ash Borer’s self titled de but long player was initially released as a 150 tape only run, which promptly sold out. As a result of constant hassling since then (as soon as I heard the tape, I started sending emails begging for a vinyl :P), they also released the album as a vinyl; which although less rare and kvlt is far superior to the tape, really bringing out the nuances and style within the music.
    A superb blackmetal album.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/C74fv0vQ0tk[/youtube]

    6 Woods of DesolationTorn Beyond Reason
    WoD have released what sits amongst the cannon of my favourite Australian albums of all times, and possibly one of the most accomplished DSBM albums i’ve ever heard. I actually read a review of the album whilst I was waiting on a promo CD of it to arrive, and whilst my LP shipment order was still quite some way off due to some printing difficulties. It described the album as emo blackmetal in an insulting tone. I would have thought, that whining screeching complaint, combined with brutal music, would be the pinnacle of DSBM, given the very nature of the genre. Anyway, I digress!
    Torn Beyond Reason does have a very emotional feel, and bears more than a passing similarity to 2010’s Austere album, To Lay Like Old Ashes – not surprising given the previous work that WoD members and Austere members had previously done. I’ve seen a few people mention that “D.” Was also a member of Austere – so strong is the aural similarity between the bands – but this isn’t actually correct. As with most DSBM albums, the music is melancholic, reasonably simple, focusing on shifting riff and chord structures to create the bulk of the atmosphere, with a fairly constant blast beat hammering away in the background. There is little in the way of influence or stylistic departure beyond this. And yet, without doing anything groundbreaking or fancy, they really nail the style perfectly. The music carriers emotion, and a sense of desperation, rather than the hate and disgust that more traditional strands of blackmetal tend to embrace. They do slow things down from time to time, and I personally think this is where the album is really at its strongest – the increased melodic strength of the music really holds up extremely well.
    My only real complaints are that the drumming, particularly when it is pure blasting, tends to sound a little bit mistimed, and that this will be the last WoD release.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/CyDHckqZORw[/youtube]

    7 Giles CoreyGiles Corey
    The debut album under the Giles Corey moniker, which is a solo project of Have A Nice Life’s Dan Barrett, is a confronting slab of music. The emotional content and nature of this album was enough to put it at the top of my list for 2011, but sadly, once the haze of darkness lifts, and you start to hear beyond the lyrical and atmospheric content, the production and some of the marketing around the album become a bit tiresome.
    First of all the good. This is a powerful peice of art. The lyrics are incredibly personal, telling of Barrett’s struggle with suicidal despair and deep dark depression. There is no caressing, simplifying or avoiding the Barrett sees as the very harsh realities of his situation. It makes for a very personal experience. Musically, the album is interesting, sitting somewhere in a mix of folk, country, rock and drone, with a very layered sound. The package (the CD comes with a booklet detailing one Robert Voor and his cult, as well as Barrett’s own personal struggle) is lush and the effort behind it is impressive – and still comes it at a very reasonable price!
    Then there is the bad. The compression is at times hideous. Although the lyrics are still clearly audible regardless, this is an album which has lengthy periods of music without singing. The compression problems really become noticeable after a few listens during these times. There hasn’t been any normalisation applied between tracks either, requiring constant fiddling with volume to avoid having ones ears exploded when tracks change. The creation of the whole Robert Voor situation, as a story telling vehicle also seems largely unnecessary. I personally don’t think the messages and concepts being conveyed are so abstract or difficult that they require a metaphorical “story” outside of the reality of the situation, to carry them.
    Ultimately, I found this album wholly satisfying, but not in a positive way. Many have found the release difficult to “enjoy”, others have found it outright uncomfortable. The music and lyrics create an atmosphere of deep despair; an unanswerable cry, a plea for help, from a man on the very edge of his limits, with a gun to his head. It is unfalteringly depressive, although some argue that by his mere persistence in the here and now, Dan has added a happy ending of sorts.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/7hDS30qQl8c[/youtube]

    8 TaakeNoregs Vaapen
    Taake have always played a very no-nonsense rock/thrash flavoured blackmetal, with little in the way of atmospheric interludes or breakdowns. I don’t intend that as a criticism. Their songs are generally sharp enough and just-close-enough-to bluesy/rocky to be catchy and memorable, without sounding overtly like they are trying to be.
    Noregs Vaapen is no different. It is, if anything, slightly further away from more traditional blackmetal than previous albums, but not significantly so. The Black ‘n Roll tag that has been thrown at bands like Vried and even latter era Satyricon is probably far more apt to being applied to what Taake do; even more so with the latest release.
    So huge has the attraction of Taake’s stripped down, metal approach become, that on the 2011 European tour, Atilla Csihar, Demonaz and Nocturno Culto all joined Hoest on stage to perform their respective guest spots. Atilla is probably not such a surprise; he has sung for a shitload of people, but Nocturno Culto in particular is quite intriguing, given his/Fenriz’s/Darkthrone’s very unapologetic critiques about the current state of the metal, and particularly, the blackmetal scene.
    The writing and technical aspects of Taake’s music, although always well executed and confident, have never exactly been cutting edge. That hasn’t changed. But I guess it doesn’t really need to when you can make such compelling and groovy metal every 3 years without fail.
    Oh yeah, there’s also a banjo fucking solo. And it isn’t even remotely lame – quite the opposite. Seriously. I’m not trolling. It kills.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/oDveAcqmiYg[/youtube]

    9 Wolves in the Throne RoomCelestial Lineage
    Celestial Lineage sounds like it was written and recorded in the 18 month period following 2007’s Two Hunters, rather than the releases we actually got (Malevolent Grain and Black Cascade). Depending on which WITTR camp you sit in this may be a good thing or a bad thing. It may also depend on whether Celestial Lineage sounds sufficiently developed and progressed from Two Hunters, given the shift in sound is clearly directed at specific areas of the trademark WITTR sound.
    WITTR pretty much started the whole Pacific Northwest sound, or at least were the first band with this sort of distinctive style to sell more than a small handful of albums. Celestial Lineage does not stray far from this now well trodden formula. Although the tracks are generally less lengthy, the build and fall, the quiet wind charm and ambient intro’s, the repetitive mid tempo blasting, is all back. As with Two Hunters, Jessika Kenney has also made a return, providing a feminine angle to some of the tracks; not entirely out of place either given the bands very distinct naturalist attitudes and constant imagery and links to nature.
    Having said all that, the record is not simply Two Hunters, with nicer recording. The sound has evolved since then, although not in huge leaps and bounds, and not in the same direction as Black Cascade went. Rather than grittier and more blasting, or more focused and pin point, Celestial Lineage creates a more ethereal and organic aesthetic. There’s still the odd niggle with some slightly unmemorable riffs being used to excess, but these are far and few between in the grand scale of things. And it is a grand sounding album.
    If you don’t mind the fact that the progress and development of WITTR’s sound is made in very small steps, this is a great album. Those wanting change, evolution and progress, that is more immediately apparent, will be left unfulfilled.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/1AdfkejJDao[/youtube]


    10 Altar of PlaguesMammal
    Altar of Plagues debut release, White Tomb, remains a personal favourite of mine from the past few years, and I think it shines as a particularly fine example of the hardcore/cascadian blackmetal mixing pot style. As a result, I was really keen to finally hear the second album, Mammal.
    Does it pick up where White Tomb left off? Yes and no. The overtly blackmetal aspects of the sound present on Mammal, are now fewer and farther between, with a more defined math rock, prog doom and hardcore feel to the tracks. Rather than atmospheric and lush, Mammal sounds claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
    Interestingly, the length of the tracks on White Tomb and Mammal are similar – both albums are a similar length overall, each with 4 songs of roughly similar length in the same ordered pattern. The themes covered are similar too. Mammal is a personal exploration of moral and societal collapse at the hands of modernist greed and shallowness, where White Tomb was an exploration of those themes broadly.
    Certainly the only band from Ireland (Cork to be specific) to be playing music of this calibre, in this style, that I currently know of. I look forward to more high quality releases from Altar of Plagues.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/zW89V9LWW4o[/youtube]

    11 HexvesselDawnbearer
    Hexvessel is the solo (sort of) vessel (see what I did there) of Mathew McNerney – better known to the metal fraternity as Kvhost of , the latest Dodheimsgard and Void fame. Void also released a new album this year, but Mat is no longer involved with the band he once fronted pre-code.
    Dawnbearer is an album of sometimes quant, sometimes tongue in cheek, but always lush and well fleshed out psychedelic and straight up folk. One of my personal beefs with later era and Mat’s work with Dodheimsgard has been his clean vocal. I don’t think it suits heavier music at all well, as it lacks any real sense of gravitas. However, on Dawnbearer his yearning to sing in a clean voice has found a perfect home. His voice is not pitch perfect, but it really suits the slightly odd lean of the music superbly well, and is sufficiently emotive to carry off the shifts of mood rather well. The extensive use of instruments beyond simple bass, guitar and drums, also lift the album into something far more interesting, than a typical folk album, as do the odd lyrical subjects and the unexpected cover of Paul Simon’s Diamonds. One of the things I really enjoy about the album, is the way Mat has managed to mix entertaining, light and quirky, with the more sombre and mysterious – all of this without feeling disjointed or mismatched.
    My only real complaint, is that some of the in-between songs – the fillers really – feel unnecessary, and rather than adding to the main event, detract somewhat from it.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/ZK5ziQMLmQc[/youtube]

    12 Com TruiseGalactic Melt
    I’ve always enjoyed the simple, spacious glitch eletctro/techno that, since I first heard his original EP early in 2010. Galactic Melt, is the debut EP under the Com Truise Pseudonym. The music is simple, uncomplicated, but amazingly catchy. If you’ve seen the movie Drive; imagine some of the 80’s inspired minimal techno (particularly Nightcall), without vocals, glitched out and slowed down – that’s a reasonably accurate approximation of what this album sounds like.
    Interestingly, for an album that is really quite simple, and ultimately based around happy sounding synth swatches with crusty sounding 80’s drum sounds, there is a genuine feel of unease, or melancholy that sits within the sound. It was probably what first really struck me about Galactic Melt – that for such an ostensibly upbeat sounding album, it wasn’t actually terribly upbeat sounding.
    There is nothing complex and no scything social commentary here; it’s just damn catchy and enjoyable down tempo glitchy electronica.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/E034wcww390[/youtube]

    13 LiturgyAesthetica
    If you’re a regular reader of heavy music press, blogs or mags, Liturgy should be a band name you recognise immediately. They’ve caused one hell of a stir amongst the heavy music minions. So fervent, was the response from some floating around in blackmetal circles, that the music itself was entirely overshadowed by teh dramaz. So intense did it all become, that the New York Post and Huffington both ran articles about it – which in turn created a whole new wave of OMGWTFGTFO.
    There’s no doubting Liturgy lead singer/self anointed band leader and “transcendental blackmetal orater” Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a pretty polarising guy. Hell, I watched an interview with him and could feel parts of my brain actually turning to a sort of stupefied mush. He does some horrific blethering, fo sho. However, he has some fairly sensible and not unfair comments to make as well. The fact that he and his band are clearly total hipsters seems to have fuelled even greater hatred towards them.
    Anyway, you can read the millions of complaints and blog articles – I need not recite them all or provide a detailed history. Why not? The music is fucking good on Aesthetica. In the same way that I haven’t stopped listening to Filosofem because I think Varg Vickernes is a total dick, I intend to not stop listening to Aesthetica.
    Aesthetica is a real blast to listen to. It’s extremely high tempo, screeching trebly guitar sound, hammering (sadly, at times slightly messy) drums, banshee screaming and interesting song structures really are thoroughly enjoyable. I had a hell of a time with the LP of the album, with only one of the vinyl’s arriving (it’s a DLP), and then the return of the proper DLP taking months, but it was totally worth it.
    There are some WTF moments on the record, like the entirely pointless Helix Skull and Glass Earth, but these are more than made up for by the actual musical tracks on the release.
    I expect this album will be on a bunch of “best of 2011” and “worst of 2011” lists. Ignore the hype, fuck all the “trve” idiots, the mindless scenesters and the blackmetal elite that are offended by girly man fringes and listen to it. Make up your own mind.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/vB8XuTmsycI[/youtube]

    14 Barn OwlLost in the Glare
    Barn Owl are one of those bands that feel like they’ve been around a lot longer than the have. This is in part due to the duo’s large catalogue of releases, but also in part, due to the mature soundscape that the music presents. Lost In The Glare continues the line of high quality drone/desert/rock releases from the band, whilst evolving enough to not sound like old ground – no mean feat when you release 9 albums in a smidge under four years.
    Lost In The Glare continues in the trend of the preceding series of releases, with a mostly drone style of music being employed. There are however, more pronounced post-rock influences to be heard, and some robust drumming on rare occasion. The Darkest Night Since 1683 is a particular departure in that it drives a much more aggressive and dissonant sound than their usual fare. The core of the music however, remains the interplay of the two guitars – whether it be acoustic, electric, or a mix of both – with a huge supporting cast of field recordings, samples, organs and god knows what else being manipulated to produce the thick, foggy and dreamlike background.
    Thematically, Barn Owl continue to focus on the stark natural landscape of deserts and mountains, along with a healthy obsession for cosmography – although this is all mostly implied by the album artwork, and the song titles, as there are of course no vocals to speak of.
    The easiest thing I can liken this album to, is Earth and Sunn O))), with hints of Kyuss and Khlyst.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/D6rnNyswOc4[/youtube]

    15 TombsPath of Totality
    Path of Totality has in my opinion, surprisingly, topped a number of “best of” lists this year. I’m not suggesting for a moment this is a bad album – far from it – Tombs have made something really quite fabulous.
    However, I fail to hear the crushing unequalled doom/hardcore/blackmetal monolith that others seem to be hearing. I think it might be because Tombs are a recent start-up American band (which certainly seems to be the flavour of the moment in recent times) who manage to capture some of the elements of blackmetal people seem so keen on lately, without being quite so hard to access.
    All my musing about Path of Totality’s popularity aside, this is a genuinely good listen. The sound is organic, and clear without losing an edge of rawness, channelling Neurosis, ISIS, WITTR and Ufomammut at various points – but remaining unique sounding overall, rather than derivative. The use of melody is definitely appreciated, as many recent releases seem to eschew such “old school” technique in favour or more complex layering, or timing shifts. The subtle and nuanced playing and writing present on Path of Totality, certainly make the oft hamfisted efforts of other metal bands all the more obvious.
    My only complaint about the music itself relates to the vocals. Whilst generally strong, on some of the less harsh moments, they do sound quite laboured, which detracts from an otherwise immersive listening experience.
    Definitely one of the best metal releases of the year, and strong even over the last few years, but not the unbridled masterpiece some seem to be hearing.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/ed6MssPgmeE[/youtube]

    16 Zweizz & Joey HopkinsZweizz & Joey Hopkins
    If you know the moniker of Svein Egil Hatlevik (Zweizz, Fleurety, ex DHG) or have heard of any Joey Hopkins previous works, there’s no doubt you have some idea of what to expect with this release. For those not familiar with the more recent output of both; fuckeduppery. Lots of it. Sadly, Joey Hopkins died nearly three years ago, leaving Zweizz to finish the record of and releasae it himself, but Joey’s influence has clearly shone through, with this sounding far from the latest Zweizz release.
    The self titled album does not disappoint in any respect. The music is a complex weave of sounds from various sources, jumbled and often juxtaposed uncomfortably against each other. There is a real sense of madness at the heart of the music. Electronic, glitchy, tympani wielding, with occasional clear guitar.
    The two tracks containing guest vocals from Krystoffer Rygg (Ulver, Arcturus, Head Control System, Aethenor etc etc etc etc) and Carl-Michael Eide (Virus, Aura Noir, Ved Buens Ende, etc) are real highlights for me, as the singing sits at such stark contrast to the underlying music, and they provide, through the lyrics, a reaffirming of the sense of the conflict that underpins the release.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/CLNufw1QEDo[/youtube]

    17 ÆthenorEn Form For Blå
    Krystoffer Rygg, Stephen O’Malley and Daniel O’Sullivan – pretty godamn sweet grouping of dudes there. Æthenor is the title these three chaps use to release their strange blend of freejazz, improv and ambient noise. Their fourth full length release, En Form For Blå is quite a different kettle of fish to the first three albums, with the addition of percussion significantly moving the sound away from a purely ambient driven project, into stranger but more full territory. The addition of a more driving electronic undercurrent, as well as something vaguely approaching vocal content, also add a more traditionally musical feel to the sound. Don’t however think this is a clean and simple musical exercise. The music is complex and brooding, with an extremely deep, sonorous and rich sound.
    It may have cost them some of their former fans, as the direction shifts away from largely ambient territories, but for my mind this is the sound of a collective of musicians really connecting and hitting their stride. Easily the most compelling release to come out under the Æthenor name to date.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/M5ZhImD9GfU[/youtube]

    18 WolfmanglerThey Call Us Naughty Wolves
    Dubbed “cello blackmetal”, Wolfmangler, not surprisingly are a group who base their sound around the Cello, rather than the more traditional guitar. The project is the work of one man, D. Smolken, also of the punishingly abrasive Dead Raven Choir. The music of Wolfmangler is abrasive, despite being quite minimalist, and centred around a deep reverberating cello, just in an aurally different manner.
    Smolken’s music isn’t reliably good, or bad. Sometimes it is amazing, other times odd, or downright annoying. Wolfmangler, definitely falls into the amazing category. As playful and silly as the album title may sound, this is music heavy in atmosphere, sounding far from jovial. The vocals, like the core melodic instrument, have been toned right down in timbre, and are now a sort of whispered raspy croak. As the album goes on, things do get weirder, with the odd vaudeville sounding folk jaunt popping up, and even some light percussion added to the more oddly paced tracks. Many of these more jaunty tracks, are actually covers of old Americana hits, adding a further layer of oddness to the album.
    The CD was shipped, in some case, with a bonus pair of red ladies underwear, with a wolf dressed as a grandma on the butt.
    Who knows then, if this was intended as a joke or a serious musical outing. Well worth listening to regardless.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/OROOTLHsy9w[/youtube]


    19 CormorantDwellings
    It has been a very long time since there was a heavy rock/traditional heavy metal album that I enjoyed at more than a fairly shallow depth. Dwellings though, has changed that. The styles presented here are varied; from Iron Maiden inspired galloping, to slow Sabbath doom, to occasional blasts of early Darkthrone, and hints of Opeth progressiveness. A real masterclass of how hard and metal styles of song writing can be wrestled into coherent and enjoyable slabs of music without needing to be stylistically restrained within the bounds of any one genre. The production is warm and hazy in a lush sort of 70’s sense. I am only aware of this being released as a CD to date (mine will arrive just after the silly season), but I hope to hell they get enough demand to put this out on vinyl. Something so rich sounding on CD/Digital can only sound even more amazing in the analogue medium, through a nice set of headphones or speakers.
    Unsigned, and true purveyors of independent music, the band rely solely on direct sales to fund their musical creations, so every dollar leads directly to more awesome music. Order it or listen to the entire thing here: http://cormorant.bandcamp.com/album/dwellings
    In the style of all good old school metal and rock, the lyrics are meaningful and filled with political and social commentary as well.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/GrCDASDQvvU[/youtube]

    20 Blut aus Nord777 (Sects) and 777 (The Desanctification)
    Blut aus Nord have become pretty bloody prolific with their recording of late. Where it seems to have hurt other acts, via diminished quality, this does not seem to be the fate for BaN.
    Sects and The Desanctification mark the first two parts of a trilogy from BaN, with their usual philosophical thematic approach underpinning each release, as a journey takes place from the alpha to the omega.
    Sects holds some melodic and compositional similarity to Memoria Vetusta II, particularly in terms of the interweaving of the guitars and the background support, but has a harsher and more dissonant edge, harking back to MoRT at times. Easily the more interesting and satisfying of the two releases, Sects is a complex writhing beast of a thing, that makes for terrible background music, such is the clashing sound present that it demands attentive listening.
    The Desantification sits more closely on the scale to MVII, but leans much more towards the softer and more soothing moments of that release. Not without merit, and possibly coloured by just how frenetic, visceral and demanding Sects is, I hope Cosmosophy (The final part of the trilogy) either finds a happy middle ground between the two, or eschews them both in favour of outright maddening complexity and structure, ala Deathspell Omega’s, Paracletus.
    Without doubt, BaN remain amongst the upper echelons of progressive and intelligently crafted blackmetal, and as long as they continue to show the versatility and total lack of fear in their writing, as on Sects in particular, they are likely to remain there for some time to come.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/vGIuN_VOJZI[/youtube]

    21 CaïnaHands that Pluck
    I first got on the Caïna bandwagon way back when Mourner was released, and have followed Andy’s work intently since. Mourner was an album that contained so much amazing music, but was ultimately let down by some very bad recording/mixing, and a lack of cohesion.
    Hands That Pluck still has those same issues, sort of. The recording quality is still far from top notch, but it feels quite intentional for the most part here, as the more blackmetal aspects of his sound are given priority, rather than the post-rock laden style of Temporary Antennae. The songs are much more defined within themselves, with less grating shifts, however there still remains a stark contrast of styles on the album. Again, in this form, it works. The blackmetal is given more urgent potency as a direct result of the meandering and blessed out nature of some of the post rock and ambient moments.
    Sadly, this will be the last full Caïna release (a split containing one new track, released in December will be the last release, full stop), as Andy has decided that Caïna has reached a logical endpoint, and that he has achieved what he set out to.
    Released as a double CD digi pack, the second disc contains reworked and re-imagined versions of older songs, and is almost worth the price of admission alone.
    My only complaint is the vocals. I don’t like them particularly, whether they be the harsh or the softer style - and they sit well forward in the mix, making them hard to tune out. Ultimately, a minor criticism of a superb album though.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/XEeRJ9nCLNo[/youtube]

    22 TenhiSaivo
    Nearly six years have passed since the amazing Maaäet was released by Tenhi. Saivo, picks up pretty much where Maaäet left off. The vocals remain a mix of layered higher pitched almost chanting, and a solid hushed and almost spoken main lyrical deliverer. Musically, there is nothing to compare Tenhi too. They are generally categorised as neofolk, but this for them is a bit narrow a definition. The violins, gently plucked guitar, ambient soundscapes and hazy piano paint an amazing picture. Saivo lacks any immediate OMFGWTFBBQ moments, unlike their previous album Maaäet, which had the amazingly immediate and visceral Tuulenkato, but the composition is delicate, complex and emotionally charged all the same.
    Over time, I suspect this album will grow on my like a wonderful fungus, particularly once I have it with me through a proper cold winter, or days of deep sadness.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/l8uDlHN26xs[/youtube]





    Nearly in the TOP 22
    Black Sun AeonBlacklight Deliverance
    Black Sun Aeon is the one man goth/doom tinged melodic death metal project for Finish multi-band-man and ADHD musician, Tuomas Saukkonen. Under the Black Sun Aeon moniker, he has continually produced extremely high quality music (both from a purely musical perspective, but also in the recording and production, which are as lush and clear as anything I’ve heard from other big names within the style), with big bottom end and a razor sharp upper spectrum. The music, whilst well composed, is not. Unlike 2010’s Routa, which I wasn’t overly impressed by, Blacklight Deliverance does not outstay its welcome. I think given the reasonably unchanged nature of Black Sun Aeon’s sound from one album to the next, keeping the albums coming in at around 40 - 50 minutes (as this one does) is a pretty decent idea. Routa had some solid music on it, but it just never ended. Blacklight Deliverance is much better paced and overall an enjoyable slab of melodic doomy/death metal, if not terribly challenging or progressive.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/I2R0CZpGxW4[/youtube]

    AlcestLe secret
    Not technically a new album, although long enough to be one with two versions of each of the included tracks. In all honesty, I fail to see the point of the re-recorded songs. The remastering of the two original tracks is superb – they are clearer but without losing any of their intensity, rawness or emotion. The re-recordings, as opposed to re-masterings, seem comparatively clean, clinical and lacking the same heft or presence of the originals.
    Worth buying to have the originals on vinyl in their re-mastered form alone.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/xWp54UkJ2Zg[/youtube]

    KralliceDiotima[album]
    Krallice have produced two excellent albums, with Diotima being the third. It lacks some of the outright intensity of the first two, instead relying on a more focused and slowed down playing style. However, the focus of the sound still very much remains the interplay of twin tremolo leads. The bass is more noticeably present and contributory to the sound than previous outings. Still a great slab of thrashy/deathy blackmetal, Diotima gives us a less frenetic, but still compelling Krallice. As with their previous albums, I tend to think that if I was writing a best of list six months from now, this would be higher up – Krallice albums always take time to really grow due to the thick wall of sound and subtle layering.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/88WtVOIjDWU[/youtube]

    A Winged Victory For The Sullen – [album artist=A Winged Victory For The Sullen]A Winged Victory For The Sullen

    AWFTS is a complex beast. The ambient droning soundscapes are gentle, soft and the piano and stringed instruments are crisp and emotive. I listened to this album a great deal. Mostly at night, and mostly via headphones. The complex nature of the music, the huge variability in the sound levels as they take us from ground to sky and beyond, and to the ocean, reward concerted listening.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/cG5hvWY46iM[/youtube]

    Falls of RaurosThe Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood
    Falls of Rauros have been around since 2006, and TLTDIRW is their third full length release. Playing a style of blackmetal that is not entirely dissimilar to Agalloch or Fen and the like, although overall somewhat heavier, their music centres around nature, paganism and the like. Recording quality has been a bit of an issue in the past, but that is no longer the case. The sound here is crisp and clear, without being too sharp, and all the elements come together nicely in the mix.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/PZz9IfMYY0I[/youtube]

    SmohallaResilience
    Smohalla are another of those bands that I got onto very early on in the piece. Resilience, their first official full length release, takes the ground laid in the brilliant Nova Persei and fleshes it out. Adding a greater depth to the writing is a more defined vocal presence, some fuller sounding tracks and a really unique overall aesthetic. Still sitting somewhere vaguely in the ballpark of progressive blackmetal, Resilience is an engaging bombastic album, with an at times boggling complexity of sound. Therein lay probably my only two minor criticisms of the album; the mix sometimes suffers under the weight of the variety of sounds, getting a bit muddled, and this at time in turn leads the album overall to feel a little bit unsure of its direction. Minor criticism though, of a truly awesome album. If this was a favourite songs of the year list, Smohalla would be sitting at number two. The youtube clips for the album are all a bit muddied, possibly because the music is quite laden and thus hard to compress? Anyway, worth getting hold of on CD!
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/X0gpCALABqg[/youtube]

    Gnaw Their Tongues - Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus
    I’m a card carrying fan of the music Mories makes, and this year he released a fuckload of it. I’m not sure if I’m getting Mories exhaustion though, as although I enjoyed them all greatly, I couldn’t quite say they were my deadest favourites. I think particularly here with GTT, generally my favourite of Mories’ vehicles, there is less cinematic/orchestral underlying structure, which makes for some very brutal passages of music. Mostly though, this brutality remains entertaining, if GTT can ever be called entertaining!?
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/j50AeAACpfA[/youtube]

    WoeQuietly, Undramatically
    Technically released in 2010, I discovered this too late last year to include in my 2010 list. In fact, I only found it towards the latter part of 2011. If not for the wrong year factor, this would be inside my top 20. I really like what they are doing. Galloping frenetic thrashing blackmetal, with influences of death, crust and doom. Truly spectacular as far as balls out, angry, spiteful heavy music goes.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/-SL8baX1Dfs[/youtube]





    Also good:
    FenEpoch[album]
    Forgotten Tomb – [album artist=Forgotten Tomb]Under Saturn Retrograde

    AsvaPresences Of Absences
    JesuAscension
    Mournful CongregationThe Book of Kings
    ObsequiaeSuspended in the Brume of Eos
    SeiromSeiromiskrieg
    EsotericParagon of Dissonance
    Natural Snow BuildingsWaves Of The Random Sea
    The Phantom CarriageNew Thing
    The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation[artist] – Anthropomorphic
    SumpTaken Dead
    Pestilential ShadowsDepths
    MemoriaDeath calls the islands
    KampfarMare
    HeretoirHeretoir
    GallhammerThe End
    BrulvahnatuMenstrual Extraction Ceremony
    Disease ProcessDiease Process
    De Magia Veterumthe divine antithesis
    Neige MorteNeige Morte
    ArizmendaWithout Circumference Nor Centre
    EarthAngels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1
    AderlatingSpear of Gold and Seraphim Bone
    A Storm of Light - [album artist =A Storm of Light]As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade[/album]
    AmebixSonic Mass
    Cloak of AlteringThe Night Comes Illuminated With Death
    PrimordialRedemption At The Puritans Hand
    IrohaEnd Of An Era
    BotanistI: The Suicide Tree, II: A Rose From The Dead
    Negative PlaneStained Glass Revelations
    Circle Of OuroborousEleven Fingers
    ThouThe Archer & the Owle
  • Best of 2011

    12. Dez. 2011, 12:50

    1 DeafheavenRoads to Judah
    I guess the choices I tend to make in my top list this year, and the trend more generally within my metal tastes at least, has been towards the style of music Deafheaven play. Passionate, not afraid to mix in outright post-rock, hardcore, punk, lo-fi and folk influences, but still unquestionably brutal at times. Deafheaven are a fairly new bunch of kids on the block (they are very young, so kids is apt), but the sound they make sounds supremely accomplished and mature. Effortlessly mixing styles and creating a strong atmosphere not of dread, as much blackmetal music tends to, but of something vaguely otherworldly. They sound fresh and unbound by the framework of the genres that they straddle. Don’t get me wrong, this is still an album that sits within all that is “black”, but it has noticeable shades of colour and flair littered throughout, and feels truly dynamic in its approach.
    The music itself is dense and the vocals sit well behind the music in the mix. The drums during the heavier passages are some of the most frenetic I’ve heard in a long time. There are regular breaks from the frenetic blasting though, that seemed so perfectly well timed in creating an amazing balance. So many blackmetal bands rely solely on blasting momentum, that the music feels single paced or lacking in intensity – no matter how intense it is – I find I become accustomed to it. In breaking free and allowing room for the sound to move and build, the intensity during those blasting presented here, feels so much more real and visceral.
    Lyrically, there is no mention of forests, satan or the mystical. The album is one of urban and city based malaise. Adding to the band’s intend on not being pigeonholed amongst purely blackmetal derived styles, the LP was released in a luscious package by Jake Bannon’s (Converge) Deathwish Inc. Label.
    Of all the blackmetal type albums to come out this year, I think this is the one I would be most forward in pressing to people that are historically fans of less heavy brands of rock, not because it isn’t heavy as all hell at times, but because the musicality of the songs lifts them beyond a simple assessment of heaviness.
    I spent a bunch of this year wondering if Liturgy or WITTR would end up being my favourite album for the year. In the end, it was a band that does create music in a similar vein, but that does so without some of the laboured weight of WITTR, and without the at times embarrassing waffle and scene combaticism of Liturgy.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/bOH_ORa0po4[/youtube]

    2 Tim HeckerRavedeath 1972 (& the related Dropped Pianos)
    Released on Kranky, Ravedeath is Hecker’s 6th full length. I’ve always enjoyed Hecker’s work, but never found any one of his prior works to be a fully enveloping experience. Sure, there were wonderfully crafted elements, and some really standout songs, but overall, they didn’t feel entirely immersive; something I think is of critical importance when making what is essentially ambient art. However, with Ravedeath, I think he has completely nailed it.
    The album is a wonderfully immersive ambient ride into strangely familiar, but hard to define territories. The heavy reliance on the church pipe organ as the base for the sampling and core of the music really does lend an ethereal feel to the rise and fall of the waves of sound. The “live” nature of the recordings (the basic organ work was completed in a single day) adds a sonic depth to the sound, the result of the sound echoing deeply around the large open church. The album feels, at times, despondent, at others, a little ragged and desperate, but always immersive and capable of taking the listener on a journey somewhere slightly out of sight.
    Darker than previous outings, Ravedeath continues Hecker’s trend of strongly themed albums, dealing with the concept of sonic waste and garbage noise (without resulting to creating grating or sonically wasteful music); the conflict between the electronic and the organic. The constant conflict between the booming airy organ, and the synthetic additions tie nicely back into the theme, and create an incredibly potent depth of sound.
    This album has replaced Bohren & der Klub of Gore’s, Black Mass, as my late night, super early morning, raining outside and cold, or coming down and drunken, listen of choice.
    Dropped Piano’s is a stripped back, “unplugged” if you like, set of pieces inspired by the works on Ravedeath, which was also released this year, and well worth listening. It is significantly less rewarding as a standalone release, but a superb companion piece to Ravedeath.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/QUpA8R01d50[/youtube]

    3 Peste NoireL'Ordure à l'état Pur
    I like Peste Noire, a lot. No great secret. Having said that, I’m not a loyal customer, so to speak, of bands generally. See the inclusion of Burzum, Mastodon or Opeth in the “misses” part of my 2011 assessment for proof of that. However, Peste Noire are yet to release an album that has not been a wonderful aural adventure for me to go on.
    L'Ordure à l'état Pur is immediately recognizable as a PN release – La Sale Famine de Valfunde’s scratchy, coughed and spat, easily audible and insistent French vocals combined with a trademark grimy guitar sound guarantee there will be no confusion. As with the previous few releases, the production is top notch and the brand of “blackmetal” purveyed, is far from orthodox or easy to pigeonhole. Techno Blast beats, horns (which absofuckinlutely OWN), cello, female vocal, samples of sexual ecstasy, gun fire and sirens all make an appearance. Usually those mixes would imply something like Dodheimsgard, later Ulver or fellow Frenchies Pensees Nocturnes for the sampling and such, or some terrible southern American swill rock for the gunshots and orgasming; make no mistake though – this album is nothing like any other out there. It is still very firmly rooted in folksy/ugly/punky/raw blackmetal-ish stuff, just with lots of gritty, dirty odd musical adornments. There is greater use of slower less frenetic pounding, as well as a more pronounced development of the folksy side of the sound. In fact it sits less obviously within the cusp of blackmetal, than any previous PN release, containing less outright blast beating or tremolo picking moments than any previous effort.
    If you enjoyed the progression of Folkfuck Folie through Ballade Cuntre Io Anemi Francor, and like the sound of that taken even further past traditional limitations of the rawer styled blackmetal, with a heady dose of a raw drunk swagger, gypsy aesthetic, punk and pure self indulgent strangeness thrown into the mix, then L'Ordure à l'état Pur will be right up your alley.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/G_9Gu8TNo9I[/youtube]

    4 Chelsea WolfeApokalypsis
    I really liked the first full length Chelsea Wolfe release, and made no secret of it. However, over time some aspects of it certainly grew to irritate me. The music itself was solid, no doubting that, but it felt piecemeal, and unnecessarily disjointed.
    Apokalypsis suffers none of this. Each track feels like it belongs to part of a whole. The flow over the course of the album is superb, and although more coalesced, there is no hint of restraint, or a lack of movement within the sound, leading it to stagnate. Rather, it is a more focussed, more directed approach. Tracks like Noorus, Bounce House Demons and Widow from the debut, The Grime and The Glow are the most related to the focus of Apokalypsis. Of course, Chelsea Wolfe has a reasonably distinct voice, so there was never any doubting the albums origins on first listen, even if some of the clunking electronic experimentation is gone.
    The elements of country-like doom (ala Earth) are more prevalent, lending the album a hazy southern swagger, and the record’s more refined sound actually lends it a darker edge, due to the continuum created.
    Released by Pendu sound, a reasonably odd little label, that features the drone/electro project of now actress Sasha Grey, Chelsea Wolfe has probably had a greater degree of exposure than might be normal for this style of music. This has certainly been helped along by what I consider to be an at times odd comparisons to Austra and Zola Jesus, born from web outlets such as Pitchfork and Stereogum really championing the darker indie/electro sounds that are out there.
    For my ears, Apokalypsis sounds like an album PJ Harvey might have recorded with Kurt Cobain (y’know, death aside and all) five or 10 years ago, if she had been heavily into web culture and heroin, if they both were actually 35 years in the past.

    My only real complaint about Apokalypsis, is the washed out sound. I know its intentional, but I find it a little too washed out and hazy to be entirely successful. Having said that, I suspect this is an album I will continue listening to for a long time to come, even if it isn’t fully realised, because it feels like it sits on the cusp of something really special.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/D1KBjgF3J90[/youtube]

    5 Ash BorerAsh Borer
    Ash Borer came as somewhat of a revelation to me. There are a lot of bands making music in the vein of Wolves In The Throne Room, or “Cascadian” blackmetal as it has been loosely dubbed, and a lot of those bands are making pretty poor music. Low quality recording works when it is applied to the right type of metal, and more specifically blackmetal. Cascadian/Pacific Northwest styled blackmetal, is not the right style. The density of the music and thick atmosphere really need a half decent production to be heard properly. Ash Borer, nail it. They balance atmospheric moments, pounding blastbeats, chortling screams, crusty punk influenced breakdowns, post-rock segues and anger in a perfect dance.
    Ash Borer’s self titled de but long player was initially released as a 150 tape only run, which promptly sold out. As a result of constant hassling since then (as soon as I heard the tape, I started sending emails begging for a vinyl :P), they also released the album as a vinyl; which although less rare and kvlt is far superior to the tape, really bringing out the nuances and style within the music.
    A superb blackmetal album.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/C74fv0vQ0tk[/youtube]

    6 Woods of DesolationTorn Beyond Reason
    WoD have released what sits amongst the cannon of my favourite Australian albums of all times, and possibly one of the most accomplished DSBM albums i’ve ever heard. I actually read a review of the album whilst I was waiting on a promo CD of it to arrive, and whilst my LP shipment order was still quite some way off due to some printing difficulties. It described the album as emo blackmetal in an insulting tone. I would have thought, that whining screeching complaint, combined with brutal music, would be the pinnacle of DSBM, given the very nature of the genre. Anyway, I digress!
    Torn Beyond Reason does have a very emotional feel, and bears more than a passing similarity to 2010’s Austere album, To Lay Like Old Ashes – not surprising given the previous work that WoD members and Austere members had previously done. I’ve seen a few people mention that “D.” Was also a member of Austere – so strong is the aural similarity between the bands – but this isn’t actually correct. As with most DSBM albums, the music is melancholic, reasonably simple, focusing on shifting riff and chord structures to create the bulk of the atmosphere, with a fairly constant blast beat hammering away in the background. There is little in the way of influence or stylistic departure beyond this. And yet, without doing anything groundbreaking or fancy, they really nail the style perfectly. The music carriers emotion, and a sense of desperation, rather than the hate and disgust that more traditional strands of blackmetal tend to embrace. They do slow things down from time to time, and I personally think this is where the album is really at its strongest – the increased melodic strength of the music really holds up extremely well.
    My only real complaints are that the drumming, particularly when it is pure blasting, tends to sound a little bit mistimed, and that this will be the last WoD release.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/CyDHckqZORw[/youtube]

    7 Giles CoreyGiles Corey
    The debut album under the Giles Corey moniker, which is a solo project of Have A Nice Life’s Dan Barrett, is a confronting slab of music. The emotional content and nature of this album was enough to put it at the top of my list for 2011, but sadly, once the haze of darkness lifts, and you start to hear beyond the lyrical and atmospheric content, the production and some of the marketing around the album become a bit tiresome.
    First of all the good. This is a powerful peice of art. The lyrics are incredibly personal, telling of Barrett’s struggle with suicidal despair and deep dark depression. There is no caressing, simplifying or avoiding the Barrett sees as the very harsh realities of his situation. It makes for a very personal experience. Musically, the album is interesting, sitting somewhere in a mix of folk, country, rock and drone, with a very layered sound. The package (the CD comes with a booklet detailing one Robert Voor and his cult, as well as Barrett’s own personal struggle) is lush and the effort behind it is impressive – and still comes it at a very reasonable price!
    Then there is the bad. The compression is at times hideous. Although the lyrics are still clearly audible regardless, this is an album which has lengthy periods of music without singing. The compression problems really become noticeable after a few listens during these times. There hasn’t been any normalisation applied between tracks either, requiring constant fiddling with volume to avoid having ones ears exploded when tracks change. The creation of the whole Robert Voor situation, as a story telling vehicle also seems largely unnecessary. I personally don’t think the messages and concepts being conveyed are so abstract or difficult that they require a metaphorical “story” outside of the reality of the situation, to carry them.
    Ultimately, I found this album wholly satisfying, but not in a positive way. Many have found the release difficult to “enjoy”, others have found it outright uncomfortable. The music and lyrics create an atmosphere of deep despair; an unanswerable cry, a plea for help, from a man on the very edge of his limits, with a gun to his head. It is unfalteringly depressive, although some argue that by his mere persistence in the here and now, Dan has added a happy ending of sorts.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/7hDS30qQl8c[/youtube]

    8 TaakeNoregs Vaapen
    Taake have always played a very no-nonsense rock/thrash flavoured blackmetal, with little in the way of atmospheric interludes or breakdowns. I don’t intend that as a criticism. Their songs are generally sharp enough and just-close-enough-to bluesy/rocky to be catchy and memorable, without sounding overtly like they are trying to be.
    Noregs Vaapen is no different. It is, if anything, slightly further away from more traditional blackmetal than previous albums, but not significantly so. The Black ‘n Roll tag that has been thrown at bands like Vried and even latter era Satyricon is probably far more apt to being applied to what Taake do; even more so with the latest release.
    So huge has the attraction of Taake’s stripped down, metal approach become, that on the 2011 European tour, Atilla Csihar, Demonaz and Nocturno Culto all joined Hoest on stage to perform their respective guest spots. Atilla is probably not such a surprise; he has sung for a shitload of people, but Nocturno Culto in particular is quite intriguing, given his/Fenriz’s/Darkthrone’s very unapologetic critiques about the current state of the metal, and particularly, the blackmetal scene.
    The writing and technical aspects of Taake’s music, although always well executed and confident, have never exactly been cutting edge. That hasn’t changed. But I guess it doesn’t really need to when you can make such compelling and groovy metal every 3 years without fail.
    Oh yeah, there’s also a banjo fucking solo. And it isn’t even remotely lame – quite the opposite. Seriously. I’m not trolling. It kills.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/oDveAcqmiYg[/youtube]

    9 Wolves in the Throne RoomCelestial Lineage
    Celestial Lineage sounds like it was written and recorded in the 18 month period following 2007’s Two Hunters, rather than the releases we actually got (Malevolent Grain and Black Cascade). Depending on which WITTR camp you sit in this may be a good thing or a bad thing. It may also depend on whether Celestial Lineage sounds sufficiently developed and progressed from Two Hunters, given the shift in sound is clearly directed at specific areas of the trademark WITTR sound.
    WITTR pretty much started the whole Pacific Northwest sound, or at least were the first band with this sort of distinctive style to sell more than a small handful of albums. Celestial Lineage does not stray far from this now well trodden formula. Although the tracks are generally less lengthy, the build and fall, the quiet wind charm and ambient intro’s, the repetitive mid tempo blasting, is all back. As with Two Hunters, Jessika Kenney has also made a return, providing a feminine angle to some of the tracks; not entirely out of place either given the bands very distinct naturalist attitudes and constant imagery and links to nature.
    Having said all that, the record is not simply Two Hunters, with nicer recording. The sound has evolved since then, although not in huge leaps and bounds, and not in the same direction as Black Cascade went. Rather than grittier and more blasting, or more focused and pin point, Celestial Lineage creates a more ethereal and organic aesthetic. There’s still the odd niggle with some slightly unmemorable riffs being used to excess, but these are far and few between in the grand scale of things. And it is a grand sounding album.
    If you don’t mind the fact that the progress and development of WITTR’s sound is made in very small steps, this is a great album. Those wanting change, evolution and progress, that is more immediately apparent, will be left unfulfilled.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/1AdfkejJDao[/youtube]


    10 Altar of PlaguesMammal
    Altar of Plagues debut release, White Tomb, remains a personal favourite of mine from the past few years, and I think it shines as a particularly fine example of the hardcore/cascadian blackmetal mixing pot style. As a result, I was really keen to finally hear the second album, Mammal.
    Does it pick up where White Tomb left off? Yes and no. The overtly blackmetal aspects of the sound present on Mammal, are now fewer and farther between, with a more defined math rock, prog doom and hardcore feel to the tracks. Rather than atmospheric and lush, Mammal sounds claustrophobic and uncomfortable.
    Interestingly, the length of the tracks on White Tomb and Mammal are similar – both albums are a similar length overall, each with 4 songs of roughly similar length in the same ordered pattern. The themes covered are similar too. Mammal is a personal exploration of moral and societal collapse at the hands of modernist greed and shallowness, where White Tomb was an exploration of those themes broadly.
    Certainly the only band from Ireland (Cork to be specific) to be playing music of this calibre, in this style, that I currently know of. I look forward to more high quality releases from Altar of Plagues.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/zW89V9LWW4o[/youtube]

    11 HexvesselDawnbearer
    Hexvessel is the solo (sort of) vessel (see what I did there) of Mathew McNerney – better known to the metal fraternity as Kvhost of <Code>, the latest Dodheimsgard and Void fame. Void also released a new album this year, but Mat is no longer involved with the band he once fronted pre-code.
    Dawnbearer is an album of sometimes quant, sometimes tongue in cheek, but always lush and well fleshed out psychedelic and straight up folk. One of my personal beefs with later era <Code> and Mat’s work with Dodheimsgard has been his clean vocal. I don’t think it suits heavier music at all well, as it lacks any real sense of gravitas. However, on Dawnbearer his yearning to sing in a clean voice has found a perfect home. His voice is not pitch perfect, but it really suits the slightly odd lean of the music superbly well, and is sufficiently emotive to carry off the shifts of mood rather well. The extensive use of instruments beyond simple bass, guitar and drums, also lift the album into something far more interesting, than a typical folk album, as do the odd lyrical subjects and the unexpected cover of Paul Simon’s Diamonds. One of the things I really enjoy about the album, is the way Mat has managed to mix entertaining, light and quirky, with the more sombre and mysterious – all of this without feeling disjointed or mismatched.
    My only real complaint, is that some of the in-between songs – the fillers really – feel unnecessary, and rather than adding to the main event, detract somewhat from it.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/ZK5ziQMLmQc[/youtube]

    12 Com TruiseGalactic Melt
    I’ve always enjoyed the simple, spacious glitch eletctro/techno that, since I first heard his original EP early in 2010. Galactic Melt, is the debut EP under the Com Truise Pseudonym. The music is simple, uncomplicated, but amazingly catchy. If you’ve seen the movie Drive; imagine some of the 80’s inspired minimal techno (particularly Nightcall), without vocals, glitched out and slowed down – that’s a reasonably accurate approximation of what this album sounds like.
    Interestingly, for an album that is really quite simple, and ultimately based around happy sounding synth swatches with crusty sounding 80’s drum sounds, there is a genuine feel of unease, or melancholy that sits within the sound. It was probably what first really struck me about Galactic Melt – that for such an ostensibly upbeat sounding album, it wasn’t actually terribly upbeat sounding.
    There is nothing complex and no scything social commentary here; it’s just damn catchy and enjoyable down tempo glitchy electronica.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/E034wcww390[/youtube]

    13 LiturgyAesthetica
    If you’re a regular reader of heavy music press, blogs or mags, Liturgy should be a band name you recognise immediately. They’ve caused one hell of a stir amongst the heavy music minions. So fervent, was the response from some floating around in blackmetal circles, that the music itself was entirely overshadowed by teh dramaz. So intense did it all become, that the New York Post and Huffington both ran articles about it – which in turn created a whole new wave of OMGWTFGTFO.
    There’s no doubting Liturgy lead singer/self anointed band leader and “transcendental blackmetal orater” Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a pretty polarising guy. Hell, I watched an interview with him and could feel parts of my brain actually turning to a sort of stupefied mush. He does some horrific blethering, fo sho. However, he has some fairly sensible and not unfair comments to make as well. The fact that he and his band are clearly total hipsters seems to have fuelled even greater hatred towards them.
    Anyway, you can read the millions of complaints and blog articles – I need not recite them all or provide a detailed history. Why not? The music is fucking good on Aesthetica. In the same way that I haven’t stopped listening to Filosofem because I think Varg Vickernes is a total dick, I intend to not stop listening to Aesthetica.
    Aesthetica is a real blast to listen to. It’s extremely high tempo, screeching trebly guitar sound, hammering (sadly, at times slightly messy) drums, banshee screaming and interesting song structures really are thoroughly enjoyable. I had a hell of a time with the LP of the album, with only one of the vinyl’s arriving (it’s a DLP), and then the return of the proper DLP taking months, but it was totally worth it.
    There are some WTF moments on the record, like the entirely pointless Helix Skull and Glass Earth, but these are more than made up for by the actual musical tracks on the release.
    I expect this album will be on a bunch of “best of 2011” and “worst of 2011” lists. Ignore the hype, fuck all the “trve” idiots, the mindless scenesters and the blackmetal elite that are offended by girly man fringes and listen to it. Make up your own mind.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/vB8XuTmsycI[/youtube]

    14 Barn OwlLost in the Glare
    Barn Owl are one of those bands that feel like they’ve been around a lot longer than the have. This is in part due to the duo’s large catalogue of releases, but also in part, due to the mature soundscape that the music presents. Lost In The Glare continues the line of high quality drone/desert/rock releases from the band, whilst evolving enough to not sound like old ground – no mean feat when you release 9 albums in a smidge under four years.
    Lost In The Glare continues in the trend of the preceding series of releases, with a mostly drone style of music being employed. There are however, more pronounced post-rock influences to be heard, and some robust drumming on rare occasion. The Darkest Night Since 1683 is a particular departure in that it drives a much more aggressive and dissonant sound than their usual fare. The core of the music however, remains the interplay of the two guitars – whether it be acoustic, electric, or a mix of both – with a huge supporting cast of field recordings, samples, organs and god knows what else being manipulated to produce the thick, foggy and dreamlike background.
    Thematically, Barn Owl continue to focus on the stark natural landscape of deserts and mountains, along with a healthy obsession for cosmography – although this is all mostly implied by the album artwork, and the song titles, as there are of course no vocals to speak of.
    The easiest thing I can liken this album to, is Earth and Sunn O))), with hints of Kyuss and Khlyst.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/D6rnNyswOc4[/youtube]

    15 TombsPath of Totality
    Path of Totality has in my opinion, surprisingly, topped a number of “best of” lists this year. I’m not suggesting for a moment this is a bad album – far from it – Tombs have made something really quite fabulous.
    However, I fail to hear the crushing unequalled doom/hardcore/blackmetal monolith that others seem to be hearing. I think it might be because Tombs are a recent start-up American band (which certainly seems to be the flavour of the moment in recent times) who manage to capture some of the elements of blackmetal people seem so keen on lately, without being quite so hard to access.
    All my musing about Path of Totality’s popularity aside, this is a genuinely good listen. The sound is organic, and clear without losing an edge of rawness, channelling Neurosis, ISIS, WITTR and Ufomammut at various points – but remaining unique sounding overall, rather than derivative. The use of melody is definitely appreciated, as many recent releases seem to eschew such “old school” technique in favour or more complex layering, or timing shifts. The subtle and nuanced playing and writing present on Path of Totality, certainly make the oft hamfisted efforts of other metal bands all the more obvious.
    My only complaint about the music itself relates to the vocals. Whilst generally strong, on some of the less harsh moments, they do sound quite laboured, which detracts from an otherwise immersive listening experience.
    Definitely one of the best metal releases of the year, and strong even over the last few years, but not the unbridled masterpiece some seem to be hearing.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/ed6MssPgmeE[/youtube]

    16 Zweizz & Joey HopkinsZweizz & Joey Hopkins
    If you know the moniker of Svein Egil Hatlevik (Zweizz, Fleurety, ex DHG) or have heard of any Joey Hopkins previous works, there’s no doubt you have some idea of what to expect with this release. For those not familiar with the more recent output of both; fuckeduppery. Lots of it. Sadly, Joey Hopkins died nearly three years ago, leaving Zweizz to finish the record of and releasae it himself, but Joey’s influence has clearly shone through, with this sounding far from the latest Zweizz release.
    The self titled album does not disappoint in any respect. The music is a complex weave of sounds from various sources, jumbled and often juxtaposed uncomfortably against each other. There is a real sense of madness at the heart of the music. Electronic, glitchy, tympani wielding, with occasional clear guitar.
    The two tracks containing guest vocals from Krystoffer Rygg (Ulver, Arcturus, Head Control System, Aethenor etc etc etc etc) and Carl-Michael Eide (Virus, Aura Noir, Ved Buens Ende, etc) are real highlights for me, as the singing sits at such stark contrast to the underlying music, and they provide, through the lyrics, a reaffirming of the sense of the conflict that underpins the release.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/CLNufw1QEDo[/youtube]

    17 ÆthenorEn Form For Blå
    Krystoffer Rygg, Stephen O’Malley and Daniel O’Sullivan – pretty godamn sweet grouping of dudes there. Æthenor is the title these three chaps use to release their strange blend of freejazz, improv and ambient noise. Their fourth full length release, En Form For Blå is quite a different kettle of fish to the first three albums, with the addition of percussion significantly moving the sound away from a purely ambient driven project, into stranger but more full territory. The addition of a more driving electronic undercurrent, as well as something vaguely approaching vocal content, also add a more traditionally musical feel to the sound. Don’t however think this is a clean and simple musical exercise. The music is complex and brooding, with an extremely deep, sonorous and rich sound.
    It may have cost them some of their former fans, as the direction shifts away from largely ambient territories, but for my mind this is the sound of a collective of musicians really connecting and hitting their stride. Easily the most compelling release to come out under the Æthenor name to date.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/M5ZhImD9GfU[/youtube]

    18 WolfmanglerThey Call Us Naughty Wolves
    Dubbed “cello blackmetal”, Wolfmangler, not surprisingly are a group who base their sound around the Cello, rather than the more traditional guitar. The project is the work of one man, D. Smolken, also of the punishingly abrasive Dead Raven Choir. The music of Wolfmangler is abrasive, despite being quite minimalist, and centred around a deep reverberating cello, just in an aurally different manner.
    Smolken’s music isn’t reliably good, or bad. Sometimes it is amazing, other times odd, or downright annoying. Wolfmangler, definitely falls into the amazing category. As playful and silly as the album title may sound, this is music heavy in atmosphere, sounding far from jovial. The vocals, like the core melodic instrument, have been toned right down in timbre, and are now a sort of whispered raspy croak. As the album goes on, things do get weirder, with the odd vaudeville sounding folk jaunt popping up, and even some light percussion added to the more oddly paced tracks. Many of these more jaunty tracks, are actually covers of old Americana hits, adding a further layer of oddness to the album.
    The CD was shipped, in some case, with a bonus pair of red ladies underwear, with a wolf dressed as a grandma on the butt.
    Who knows then, if this was intended as a joke or a serious musical outing. Well worth listening to regardless.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/OROOTLHsy9w[/youtube]


    19 CormorantDwellings
    It has been a very long time since there was a heavy rock/traditional heavy metal album that I enjoyed at more than a fairly shallow depth. Dwellings though, has changed that. The styles presented here are varied; from Iron Maiden inspired galloping, to slow Sabbath doom, to occasional blasts of early Darkthrone, and hints of Opeth progressiveness. A real masterclass of how hard and metal styles of song writing can be wrestled into coherent and enjoyable slabs of music without needing to be stylistically restrained within the bounds of any one genre. The production is warm and hazy in a lush sort of 70’s sense. I am only aware of this being released as a CD to date (mine will arrive just after the silly season), but I hope to hell they get enough demand to put this out on vinyl. Something so rich sounding on CD/Digital can only sound even more amazing in the analogue medium, through a nice set of headphones or speakers.
    Unsigned, and true purveyors of independent music, the band rely solely on direct sales to fund their musical creations, so every dollar leads directly to more awesome music. Order it or listen to the entire thing here: http://cormorant.bandcamp.com/album/dwellings
    In the style of all good old school metal and rock, the lyrics are meaningful and filled with political and social commentary as well.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/GrCDASDQvvU[/youtube]

    20 Blut aus Nord777 (Sects) and 777 (The Desanctification)
    Blut aus Nord have become pretty bloody prolific with their recording of late. Where it seems to have hurt other acts, via diminished quality, this does not seem to be the fate for BaN.
    Sects and The Desanctification mark the first two parts of a trilogy from BaN, with their usual philosophical thematic approach underpinning each release, as a journey takes place from the alpha to the omega.
    Sects holds some melodic and compositional similarity to Memoria Vetusta II, particularly in terms of the interweaving of the guitars and the background support, but has a harsher and more dissonant edge, harking back to MoRT at times. Easily the more interesting and satisfying of the two releases, Sects is a complex writhing beast of a thing, that makes for terrible background music, such is the clashing sound present that it demands attentive listening.
    The Desantification sits more closely on the scale to MVII, but leans much more towards the softer and more soothing moments of that release. Not without merit, and possibly coloured by just how frenetic, visceral and demanding Sects is, I hope Cosmosophy (The final part of the trilogy) either finds a happy middle ground between the two, or eschews them both in favour of outright maddening complexity and structure, ala Deathspell Omega’s, Paracletus.
    Without doubt, BaN remain amongst the upper echelons of progressive and intelligently crafted blackmetal, and as long as they continue to show the versatility and total lack of fear in their writing, as on Sects in particular, they are likely to remain there for some time to come.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/vGIuN_VOJZI[/youtube]

    21 CaïnaHands that Pluck
    I first got on the Caïna bandwagon way back when Mourner was released, and have followed Andy’s work intently since. Mourner was an album that contained so much amazing music, but was ultimately let down by some very bad recording/mixing, and a lack of cohesion.
    Hands That Pluck still has those same issues, sort of. The recording quality is still far from top notch, but it feels quite intentional for the most part here, as the more blackmetal aspects of his sound are given priority, rather than the post-rock laden style of Temporary Antennae. The songs are much more defined within themselves, with less grating shifts, however there still remains a stark contrast of styles on the album. Again, in this form, it works. The blackmetal is given more urgent potency as a direct result of the meandering and blessed out nature of some of the post rock and ambient moments.
    Sadly, this will be the last full Caïna release (a split containing one new track, released in December will be the last release, full stop), as Andy has decided that Caïna has reached a logical endpoint, and that he has achieved what he set out to.
    Released as a double CD digi pack, the second disc contains reworked and re-imagined versions of older songs, and is almost worth the price of admission alone.
    My only complaint is the vocals. I don’t like them particularly, whether they be the harsh or the softer style - and they sit well forward in the mix, making them hard to tune out. Ultimately, a minor criticism of a superb album though.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/XEeRJ9nCLNo[/youtube]

    22 TenhiSaivo
    Nearly six years have passed since the amazing Maaäet was released by Tenhi. Saivo, picks up pretty much where Maaäet left off. The vocals remain a mix of layered higher pitched almost chanting, and a solid hushed and almost spoken main lyrical deliverer. Musically, there is nothing to compare Tenhi too. They are generally categorised as neofolk, but this for them is a bit narrow a definition. The violins, gently plucked guitar, ambient soundscapes and hazy piano paint an amazing picture. Saivo lacks any immediate OMFGWTFBBQ moments, unlike their previous album Maaäet, which had the amazingly immediate and visceral Tuulenkato, but the composition is delicate, complex and emotionally charged all the same.
    Over time, I suspect this album will grow on my like a wonderful fungus, particularly once I have it with me through a proper cold winter, or days of deep sadness.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/l8uDlHN26xs[/youtube]





    Nearly in the TOP 22
    Black Sun AeonBlacklight Deliverance
    Black Sun Aeon is the one man goth/doom tinged melodic death metal project for Finish multi-band-man and ADHD musician, Tuomas Saukkonen. Under the Black Sun Aeon moniker, he has continually produced extremely high quality music (both from a purely musical perspective, but also in the recording and production, which are as lush and clear as anything I’ve heard from other big names within the style), with big bottom end and a razor sharp upper spectrum. The music, whilst well composed, is not. Unlike 2010’s Routa, which I wasn’t overly impressed by, Blacklight Deliverance does not outstay its welcome. I think given the reasonably unchanged nature of Black Sun Aeon’s sound from one album to the next, keeping the albums coming in at around 40 - 50 minutes (as this one does) is a pretty decent idea. Routa had some solid music on it, but it just never ended. Blacklight Deliverance is much better paced and overall an enjoyable slab of melodic doomy/death metal, if not terribly challenging or progressive.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/I2R0CZpGxW4[/youtube]

    AlcestLe secret
    Not technically a new album, although long enough to be one with two versions of each of the included tracks. In all honesty, I fail to see the point of the re-recorded songs. The remastering of the two original tracks is superb – they are clearer but without losing any of their intensity, rawness or emotion. The re-recordings, as opposed to re-masterings, seem comparatively clean, clinical and lacking the same heft or presence of the originals.
    Worth buying to have the originals on vinyl in their re-mastered form alone.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/xWp54UkJ2Zg[/youtube]

    KralliceDiotima[album]
    Krallice have produced two excellent albums, with Diotima being the third. It lacks some of the outright intensity of the first two, instead relying on a more focused and slowed down playing style. However, the focus of the sound still very much remains the interplay of twin tremolo leads. The bass is more noticeably present and contributory to the sound than previous outings. Still a great slab of thrashy/deathy blackmetal, Diotima gives us a less frenetic, but still compelling Krallice. As with their previous albums, I tend to think that if I was writing a best of list six months from now, this would be higher up – Krallice albums always take time to really grow due to the thick wall of sound and subtle layering.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/88WtVOIjDWU[/youtube]

    A Winged Victory For The Sullen – [album artist=A Winged Victory For The Sullen]A Winged Victory For The Sullen

    AWFTS is a complex beast. The ambient droning soundscapes are gentle, soft and the piano and stringed instruments are crisp and emotive. I listened to this album a great deal. Mostly at night, and mostly via headphones. The complex nature of the music, the huge variability in the sound levels as they take us from ground to sky and beyond, and to the ocean, reward concerted listening.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/cG5hvWY46iM[/youtube]

    Falls of RaurosThe Light That Dwells in Rotten Wood
    Falls of Rauros have been around since 2006, and TLTDIRW is their third full length release. Playing a style of blackmetal that is not entirely dissimilar to Agalloch or Fen and the like, although overall somewhat heavier, their music centres around nature, paganism and the like. Recording quality has been a bit of an issue in the past, but that is no longer the case. The sound here is crisp and clear, without being too sharp, and all the elements come together nicely in the mix.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/PZz9IfMYY0I[/youtube]

    SmohallaResilience
    Smohalla are another of those bands that I got onto very early on in the piece. Resilience, their first official full length release, takes the ground laid in the brilliant Nova Persei and fleshes it out. Adding a greater depth to the writing is a more defined vocal presence, some fuller sounding tracks and a really unique overall aesthetic. Still sitting somewhere vaguely in the ballpark of progressive blackmetal, Resilience is an engaging bombastic album, with an at times boggling complexity of sound. Therein lay probably my only two minor criticisms of the album; the mix sometimes suffers under the weight of the variety of sounds, getting a bit muddled, and this at time in turn leads the album overall to feel a little bit unsure of its direction. Minor criticism though, of a truly awesome album. If this was a favourite songs of the year list, Smohalla would be sitting at number two. The youtube clips for the album are all a bit muddied, possibly because the music is quite laden and thus hard to compress? Anyway, worth getting hold of on CD!
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/X0gpCALABqg[/youtube]

    Gnaw Their Tongues - Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras Veneramus
    I’m a card carrying fan of the music Mories makes, and this year he released a fuckload of it. I’m not sure if I’m getting Mories exhaustion though, as although I enjoyed them all greatly, I couldn’t quite say they were my deadest favourites. I think particularly here with GTT, generally my favourite of Mories’ vehicles, there is less cinematic/orchestral underlying structure, which makes for some very brutal passages of music. Mostly though, this brutality remains entertaining, if GTT can ever be called entertaining!?
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/j50AeAACpfA[/youtube]

    WoeQuietly, Undramatically
    Technically released in 2010, I discovered this too late last year to include in my 2010 list. In fact, I only found it towards the latter part of 2011. If not for the wrong year factor, this would be inside my top 20. I really like what they are doing. Galloping frenetic thrashing blackmetal, with influences of death, crust and doom. Truly spectacular as far as balls out, angry, spiteful heavy music goes.
    [youtube]http://youtu.be/-SL8baX1Dfs[/youtube]





    Also good:
    FenEpoch[album]
    Forgotten Tomb – [album artist=Forgotten Tomb]Under Saturn Retrograde

    AsvaPresences Of Absences
    JesuAscension
    Mournful CongregationThe Book of Kings
    ObsequiaeSuspended in the Brume of Eos
    SeiromSeiromiskrieg
    EsotericParagon of Dissonance
    Natural Snow BuildingsWaves Of The Random Sea
    The Phantom CarriageNew Thing
    The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation[artist] – Anthropomorphic
    SumpTaken Dead
    Pestilential ShadowsDepths
    MemoriaDeath calls the islands
    KampfarMare
    HeretoirHeretoir
    GallhammerThe End
    BrulvahnatuMenstrual Extraction Ceremony
    Disease ProcessDiease Process
    De Magia Veterumthe divine antithesis
    Neige MorteNeige Morte
    ArizmendaWithout Circumference Nor Centre
    EarthAngels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1
    AderlatingSpear of Gold and Seraphim Bone
    A Storm of Light - [album artist =A Storm of Light]As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade[/album]
    AmebixSonic Mass
    Cloak of AlteringThe Night Comes Illuminated With Death
    PrimordialRedemption At The Puritans Hand
    IrohaEnd Of An Era
    BotanistI: The Suicide Tree, II: A Rose From The Dead
    Negative PlaneStained Glass Revelations
    Circle Of OuroborousEleven Fingers
    ThouThe Archer & the Owle
  • 2010 best of

    1. Jan. 2011, 17:47

    1. Deathspell OmegaParacletus
    Deathspell Omega are not the most popular band in extreme music, and this release will win them no more fans. However, what they do splits opinions for a reason. It isn’t easy or comfortable music, its inexorably linked to their personal philosophical and theological opinions, and it requires dedication and submersed listening.
    In an era where people struggle to hold their attention on anything for a few minutes, this sort of album, like the two that preceded it (Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice and Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum) was never going to be universally popular. Listening to one song makes no sense. Having it on in the background will cause only distraction and angst. It requires careful considered listening.
    Theologically and spiritually, Paracletus completes the Deathspell Omega trinity of works. Like the music, the ideas behind this final instalment lay somewhere between the first two and continue to explore Christian / Satanic themes in a variety of languages,
    As we’ve come to expect, the music is complex. The guitars cross and are often disharmonic. The use of odd time signatures reigns supreme, and moments of outright melody are scarce. The music has quiet moments, slower moments, but never is the sense of drive lost. Jazz styled drum lashings populate the often manic skin work.
    Where FAS intentionally tore away from identifiable or musical structure, and dove headlong into mania and chaos, Paracletus, adds a measure of control and a more defined sense of the deliberate. No doubt FAS was a deliberate construction, but it at times felt utterly unhinged and wild – raging far away from any musical marker.
    Ultimately, this is an album that is far more than a collection of parts, it is something to be experienced. It is an experience that many will find frustrating, but a lucky few, will find rewarding beyond expectation.

    2. Ludicra – The Tenant
    I saw a few people mentioning this album, and for some reason thought it was a sort of female fronted hard rock act. Not sure why, but I was very wrong.
    Since discovering this album, I have listened heavily to the back catalogue the band has, and it appears I have been missing out for some time. There are a few really great blackmetal type bands that have appeared in the US in recent years (Castevet, Wolves In The Throne Room, Agalloch amongst others), but somehow Ludicra seem to have missed the boat when it comes to open promotion and popularity. A real shame, because these guys are doing something really quite special. Featuring members of Slough Feg, Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch, the band certainly has an admirable pedigree.
    The music is clearly blackmetal at heart, but it stretches into territory far beyond such simple categorization. It contains a healthy dose of crusty hardcore, warm 70’s vocal styles, thrashy passages, and doomy breakdowns.
    Really beautiful music that maintains the rage.
    Cheak out Aesop’s blog (From Agalloch) for some great and weird stuff  http://cosmichearse.blogspot.com/

    3. Gnaw Their Tongues – L'arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante and The Blotched and Unwanted
    I’ve included 2 albums here as only one is new in the strictest sense (L'arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante) with The Blotched and Unwanted being more of an odds and sods of unreleased materials type album – it was released exclusively as a digital download.
    Mories (the only chap involved in creating this horror) is one spiteful, dark, broken bastard. If his music is anything to go by that is. The latest GTT release is punishingly bleak; an endless stream of horrible sounds and spooky atmospheres. As with the last GTT release to make one of my top lists (All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity), L'arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante is a mix of blackmetal ambience, dark cinemascape and classical woe, all bound together in one miserable pit of noise. Violins, choirs, orchestration, piano – all there, but within a framework of ugly cinematic blackmetal inspired noise. The album at times sounds incomprehensible and muddled, but always engaging.
    Not as uncompromisingly horrific and ugly as ‘All the dread magnificence of perversity’, but punishing none the less. Listen to it at night with the lights out, wearing good headphones.

    4. A Forest of Stars – Opportunistic thieves of spring
    The second album from A Forest of Stars, following 2008’s “The Corpse of Rebirth”, continues the work starts with TCoR, but adds much stronger production, longer meandering passages of acoustic and classical music, and a wider style of music overall.
    Although at times less well formed than TCoR, in terms of continuity, which can be a little distracting, the quality of the song writing and the playing really wins the day. Musically, this is probably my favourite and most listened to album of the year. Not challenging like the first 2 places, simply enjoyable and beautifully wrought.
    The whole image the band have built, which ties into the song titles and chaptering is all a little wanky and unnecessary, and if anything simply detracts from the music. Which is a shame, because with Opportunistic Thieves of Spring, A Forest of Stars have made some really impressive music.

    5. Circular – Cycles of Remembrance
    Cycles of Remembrance is the first full length from this Circular (confusingly, there are 2 ambient projects called Circular), following the split they released with Inade some years back. Circular’s music thus far has been consistently high quality dark ambient space/sci-fi noise, that is very compelling. The music is very much a journey from the here and now to somewhere else entirely. Reminiscent of the Blade Runner soundtrack and times, or the odd bit of the Dune soundtrack, the music is evocative and creates palpable atmosphere. The tracks are not particularly adventurous, and loosely follow typical song structures, building and falling and building again with a new twist, onto a final lead out. However, they succeed in this simplicity regardless. Gentle, light handed and beautiful ambient music, that should be listened to for exactly the opposite reason as the album that made my #3 spot this year

    6. Shining – Blackjazz
    A bunch of people commented on the shattering new direction Kvarforth had taken when this album first came out. In fact, on many internet forums there was unbridled rage about this new sound. However, this was never that same band. Same name, different band. Dramas. Oh noes. It just so happens that where the Kvarforth led Swedish Shining have disappointed me with their last few releases, the Norwegian Shining have impressed me immensely. I was first alerted to this group by the saxophonist that appeared on Ihsahn’s 2010 release (After). The saxman in question, Jorgen Mukenby, is in fact the front man for the Norwegian Shining.
    As the album name suggests, blackjazz is a sort of filthy jazz hybrid with elements of metal, prog rock and electronic/sampling coming together with a wide variety of Jazz underpinnings to produce a fucking hectic and at times muddled album. Muddled would normally be a bad thing, but in this context, it is just a way of describing a texture, not a criticism at all.
    At times, I can even hear a bit of muse in the songs (Exit sun in particular!), but a sort of fucked up drugged out, angry bit.
    P.S. – King Crimson fans – be warned, the cover of 21st Century Schizoid Man might not be entirely your cup of tea 

    7. October Tide – A Thin Shell
    When Katatonia began heading down a goth rock path, October Tide stayed the path of more intense chord and riff driven melodic doom metal. There can be no doubt that Katatonia have seen success build since this shift, and for many a year it seemed October Tide had simply crumbled away in the face of this. However, after releasing Night Is the new day, the Norman brothers left Katatonia and before long, talk of a new October Tide album began to emerge. The last release from October tide came in 1999, with the masterful Rain Without End dropped some 13 years ago!
    So after 11 years, do we get the same thing again? Not quite. The trademark sound is there; the guitars immediately falling into that style that was so well captured on Rain Without End and Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day. The vocals are gravelling and throaty, the bass punchy and driven. The mood is wintry. Having said all that, there is a clear progression (possibly because Frederik Norman is the only carryover member) in the sound, which is fresh and a gear or so faster than before, but still the overwhelming emotion that builds in the music is one of melancholy.
    The perfect album for a grey winter day, or a summer night filled with dark moods.

    8. Drudkh – A Handful of Stars
    I have flipped and flopped a little on this album. At first I loved it, then I became critical of it, and now I have settled back into enjoying it. I still feel there are some technical problems with the album, and it does appear to leap onto a trend (post and shoegaze brushed blackmetal), which I continue to generally lament given the outstanding nature of some of their previous releases. However, having said all that, A Handful of stars works.
    Musically, a handful of stars is Drudkh’s least complicated affair. The riffs are simplistic, and strung together in a simple fashion. The mix of instruments is inoffensive, and the vocals sit neither particularly far forward, nor buried into the mix.
    Having said that (it reads badly I know!), it somehow all ties together to make a sound that’s satisfying and that carries a defined sense of movement.
    Also of note, are the changes to the song titling: all Ukrainian titles have been removed and the titles take on a decidedly western tone.
    For most people into metal, and into Drudkh, this album will bitterly disappoint. For some reason, it has struck a chord with me. I may look back in time and regret not including the great new Burzum, Red Sparrowes, Blood Axis, Fauna or Dax Riggs albums in my top 20, but for now, A Handful of Stars remains an album I listen to significantly more often.

    9. Eraldo Bernocchi and Blackfilm – Along The Corridors
    This is an album that might surprise some people as it is far removed from my usual top 20 fodder. Along The Corridors is a dark low-fi ambient dub album with occasional jazz flourishes. It is moody, gritty but super relaxed and groovy. It is a laconic album, making its point without the need for great hefty breakdowns and heavy use of samples. Not devoid of such things, they are simply used with a light hand, allowing the main lazy drive of the deep dub to carry the music.
    When they were putting this album together, I can’t help but think they spent a lot of lazy Sunday’s drinking beer in the shade of leafy trees.

    10. Les Discrets – Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées
    Alcest, Amesoeurs and Les Discrets. Three “bands” that are very intricately intertwined. Fursy, the main force behind Les Discrets, even did the artwork on the Alcest album that was released at the same time as this album.
    Septembre Et Ses Dernières Pensées has some vague moments where the intent of the songs and the direction they are taking, seems to get a little muddled. However, unlike the Alcest release, none of the songs sound like filler tracks. Similar musically to the Alcest release, the music here is further away from metal, and the vocals are definitely far from metal with their ethereal and gentle stylings. At heart, this is a rock album with layered guitars, and a wistful atmosphere and one that works extremely well.

    11. Urfaust – Der freiwillige Bettler
    Urfaust have release a consistent stream of splits and EP’s, but Der freiwillige Bettler marks their first full length album since 2005’s Verräterischer, Nichtswürdiger Geist. Unlike many of the more experimental, ambient and electronic laced songs of those interspersing releases, Der freiwillige Bettler returns to the more bleak blackmetal sound of old. Not so much so as to be devoid of anything beyond that, but certainly not as adventurous as the EP’s and splits. Perhaps, this album would have cracked my top 10 if Urfaust had stayed the path of the weird and wonderful they had been walking.
    What the band have produced is a typically uncomfortable, hazy, meandering and screeching album. A fantastically rewarding one. Recognisable immediately as an Urfaust release, the drums are well forward in the mix with the guitars twisted entirely out of shape and at times synthetic sounding. Willem’s voice remains the real x factor, with his usual mix of crooning, deep yelling and bitter screams making a powerful return.

    12. Nest – Retold
    An album of exquisite, Retold uses simple classical compositions with piano, strings and ambient electronics to create a beautiful atmosphere. Simple in essence, but peppered with subtle layering and samples to build a deeper atmosphere, particularly when listened to in isolating headphones. I think I first found Nest via Olafur Arnalds, but find the compositions by Nest to be entirely more satisfying. Perhaps because of their generally more mournful and droning nature.
    The first half of Retold is the original EP the duo released, remastered and reworked, with the second half being entirely new.

    13. Castevet – Mounds of Ash
    Reminding me of nothing else, but sounding a little bit like a hybrid of Wolves In The Throne Room, Altar of Plagues, De Magia Veterum, Krallice and Ludicra with slightly hardcore style vocals, Castevet make one hell of a racket. Generally, Profound Lore only release the finest of music, and Castevet are no exception.
    I’ve read several reviews making reference, albeit somewhat hesitantly, to this as being part of a wave of Hipster Blackmetal emanating from the USA – an odd comparison for sure. I think these comparisons stem largely from the dress sense of some of the US based bands – beards, retro shirts and glasses are certainly all the rage. It definitely sounds American – tremolo picking is not the principle musical vehicle used herein, but it is clearly of the blackmetal genus musically. The more mellow passages break the songs up nicely and the album feels well paced and spaced out. This album is actually very much of a similar vein to the Ludicra album further up my list, but somewhat less well formed, and a bit more of a mellow and straight down the line (if that’s possible for a post hardcore blackmetal album!) affair. The Spartan spattering of horns are fucking superb. More of this please :D!
    An amazing debut album, which continues to cement Profound Lore as one of the labels to really rely on for top notch singings.

    14. Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini
    It’s no secret that I found some of the more recent Enslaved releases a tad disappointing, but the latest release, Axioma Ethica Odini, is one that I find myself really enjoying. Whilst still rooting itself firmly within the proggy/psychedelic regions of extreme metal, this album does have a firmer and more solid core than anything since Isa. Some of the riffs are downright catchy and some of the songs have an amazing sense of urgency about them (Ethica Odini, Singular, Raidho). They have received a great deal of flack for this album, with some commentators suggesting it borders on radio friendly stadium rock. Not sure exactly if we were listening to the same album .
    Swathed in uplifting guitar runs, rock laced, sometimes a little overwrought, but always solid and committed to their own progressive blackmetal rooted sound.

    15. Nàttsòl – Stemning
    As far as pounding mostly straight up and down blackmetal goes, Stemning is one of the best releases i’ve heard in some time. Comparable to Hordalands Doedeskvad era Taake, with a bit of Bergtatt era Ulver thrown in, the music is fast, extremely catchy and a little bit folky. The odd groovy and more bass heavy breakdown, or acoustic passage, add some respite to the drive of the tracks. Those that like old fashioned Borknager, Taake of Ulver style blackmetal in any form will find this sort of album greatly enjoyable. Great exercise, plane flight or forest griming-it-uppering music.

    16. Abigor – Time Is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint
    Abigor were a band that I never really liked historically. Then they started making music that had more in common with Dodheimsgard and Aborym than it did Darkthrone. Not a universally popular move on their behalf, but a brilliant one in my opinion.
    This album continues their path of strange jarring metal. Mechanical drum beats intersperse more traditional drums, guitars screech and scream at odd times, the vocals span most ranges, occasional deep bass beats spring up, strange samples tick away constantly, and the overall feeling of the album is one of utter instability and of a constantly shifting geography. No stylistic direction ever lasts, and the album is in constant flux. There are occasional moments of more traditional metal music, but these are certainly outweighed by the more manic and unhinged moments of clatter. Adding to the difficult nature of the release, the entire album is recorded as two near enough 20 minute tracks, making bite sized digestion of the pieces of madness an impossibility.

    17. Harvestman – Trinity
    Harvestman is one of the solo vehicles for iconic frontman of Neurosis, steve von til.
    Previous releases under the Harvestman moniker have covered a variety of ground, with a folk/celtic element often the element that brought a link between the different sounds and musical aspects.
    Trinity is a 1000 copy limited edition album, produced for the Italian film h20dio (Hate 2.0). With Trinity, the sound has been paired back and simplified compared to other releases. There is a great deal less diversity, but the music doesn’t suffer for it. The album sounds focused and deliberate, with a heavier reliance on droning samples layered with folk guitars which are more an accompaniment to the ambience, than the focal point of the music.
    If there is an album this year that I think has a right to be called a composition, rather than simply an album, then this is certainly it.

    18. Ihsahn – After
    Finally! Ihsahn has managed to record an album with the sort of quality sound that his complex music deserves. Another of the albums this year to thrown horns at metal (see what I did there :P??), and another to nail it and get it right. Although, the other albums in my top ten where that is the case are much more in the vein of blackmetal, whereas this album is much closer in nature to prog rock.
    Most of the songs have a sound that is certainly quite epic, with a storytelling style applied to their construction. His vocals are still not ideal, but they are at least unique, and certainly not unexpected.
    Another step away from his roots, this is one progression away that I personally can’t wait to keep following.

    19. Pensées Nocturnes – Grotesque
    I had a hard time choosing between Grotesque, and the excellent “Sweet Poison” by Angst Skvadron for position number 19. In the end, I found Grotesque to be a much more fluid album. Certainly not as adventurous as Sweet Posion, but none the less a great album.
    Laced with classical instruments and song structures, that join at times clumsily onto more traditional fast paced blackmetal passages, the songs are often long and wrought with shrieking vocals.

    20. How to Destroy Angels – How to Destroy Angels
    My last position was hard fought between How to Destroy Angels and Clair Cassis (the latter definitely being my 21st!).
    Trent Reznor makes some OK music, but NIN has never really grabbed me particularly. His production and mixing work though is fantastic.
    HtDA has come along to prove just how good he can be. The music sounds reminiscent of a less radio friendly NIN, and then the vocals kick in. Softly sung across the tracks, by his wife, Mariqueen Reznor. The combination is chilling, particularly on the track “The Space in Between” which has been on an incredibly high rotation since I first discovered it.
    Just imagine NIN with a more relaxed lazy female vocal, with an at times dancier feel, and at other times gloomier feel, and you have HtDA.

    Almost top 20 quality, and totally worth hearing:
    Clair Cassis – Clair Cassis (blackmetal)
    Angst Skvadron – Sweet Poison (metal)
    De Magia Veterum – In Conspectu Divinae Majestati (blackmetal)
    Menace Ruine – Union of Irreconcilables (martial post-something)
    Apoptose – Bannwald (ambient)
    Blood Axis – Born Again (neo-folk)
    Fauna – The Hunt (Ambient blackmetal/doom)
    Red Sparrowes – The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer (post rock)
    Dax Riggs – Say Goodnight to the World (Bayou rock)
    Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky (rock/noise rock)
    John Zorn – Dictée/Liber Novus (avant-garde jazz)
    Winterfylleth – The Mercian Sphere (traditional blackmetal)
    Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (extreme metal/USBM)
    StarGazer – A great work of ages (Prog Death/Extreme Metal)
    Zola Jesus – Stridulum (noise pop/electro pop)
    Blutmond – Thirteen urban ways 4 groovy bohemian days (avant-garde metal)
    Alcest – Écailles de Lune (post blackmetal)
    Black Sun Aeon – Routa (Melodic death metal)
    Massive Attack – Heligoland (trip hop/dub)
    Boris With Ian Astbury – Bxi (Psych rock)
    Inquisitor – The Quantum Theory of Id
    Natural Snow Buildings – The Centauri Agent (post rock/drone)
    Sorgeldom – Inner Receivings (blackmetal) (features an unexpected Slowdive cover!)
    Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – The Road (soundtrack)
    An Autumn For Crippled Children – Lost (black doom)

    Not bad, but not great:

    Burzum – Belus (Blackmetal)
    Rome – Nor chants perdus (neo-folk)
    Negura Bunget – Vîrstele Pamîntului (progressive extreme metal)
    Mal Etre – Torment (Black doom/ambient)
    Minamo + Lawrence English – A Path Less Travelled (ambient electronic)
    Hindisig – I en Tidløs Høst (prog blackmetal)
    Lantlos – Neon (blackmetal)
    Nidingir – Wolf-father (Blackmetal)
    Sylvester Anfang II – Commune Casseten (Psychedelic/experimental)
    Twilight – Monument to Time End (blackmetal/USBM)
    Aborym – Psychgrotesque (electro blackmetal)
    Ef – Mourning Golden Morning (post rock)
    Mortifera – Maledictiih (blackmetal)















    NàTTSòL



    Pensées Nocturnes



























  • 2009 best of

    10. Jan. 2010, 16:16

    ep, the time of year where Craig craps on about what music floated his boat the most is here again.

    Each year I say it was an interesting year. This year it was a fucking great year musically. So many good solid quality releases. Inevitably what this means is that my “Worthy Mentions” section that follows the top list, is massive this year. Hideously massive.

    No more top 10 in metal and top 10 in ambient/electronic etc, this year. Just one big top 20.

    Without further rubbishing in the way of intro, here goes my top 20 for 2009





    1Peste Noire - Ballade Cuntre Lo Anemi Francor

    Black country metal. Yep. It sounds as weird as, well, it sounds. Peste Noire for the uninitiated, are a band from Avignon France, formed some years back by one Famine. Famine is a former member of Mortifera, Celestia and Amesoeurs.

    I am 100% gossiping and it may be utterly untrue, but since Amesoeurs disbanded and Audrey suddenly joined PN, I am going to theorise that the end of Amesoeurs had something to do with <3 ’s being upset.

    Now, the important stuff. This is an amazing release. It really will be hated by a large number of people though. By amazing I don’t mean easy to listen to, pretty, stylish, cool or hip. I mean amazing. The music is reasonably stripped back, with a sense of space in the sound. All the instruments are clear and the recording is surprisingly top notch. I say surprisingly as although i thoroughly enjoyed Folkfuck Folie, the recording quality was quite poor – perhaps intentionally so. The songs are more varied than on previous releases, with an almost country feel at times. The mood the sound creates is raucous, somewhat spiteful, ugly and at times jaunty and lively.

    A hybrid of sounds from very different quarter - progressive and folk rock, punk, black metal with female vocals, samples, and Famine’s horrible snarls – with never a dull moment – this album doesn’t fail to fascinate through its entirety


    2 Mastodon – Crack The Skye
    Mastodon

    Yep, from the obscure to the verging on mainstream rock in just 1 place. Think I must be getting all broken and sold out in my old age? Think again. Anyone that writes this album off because of the fact that Mastodon are a reasonably successful and well known band, or because of the hideously poor lyrics/lyrical concept, is really missing out on something special. The fact that even with a deficiency sufficient to derail most albums from my top lists, this is still here, tells you something about the music.

    There is no doubt this is a Mastodon release, the vocals are very easily identified and that therefore gives some sense of expectation about what will follow. Those expecting another move in the vein of Blood Mountain will no doubt be disappointed. Replacing the sludge and stoner aesthetic is a prog style 70’s vibe, with a heavier cleaner edge than the band has produced previously. The music sounds simple at first, but deeper focus yields unexpectedly complex but restrained musicianship. The band seemed to have developed an understanding that less really sometimes is more, but at the same time have not lost any flair – they have simply made that flair more appropriate.

    Perhaps this is the new Metallica – the easily digested metal of the modern era – and if it is, so be it, because regardless of what else it may or may not be, it is interesting and satisfying musical head foods.


    3 Gnaw Their Tongues – All The Dread Magnificence of Perversity
    Gnaw Their Tongues

    And now for something completely different.

    I looked on metal archives to see lyrically what the band, or rather artist was about. It tells me “bondage and torture”. I think maybe they just discerned that from the actual sound of the music.

    Gnaw their tongues is the aural version of a horror movie soundscape crashing headlong into a visual torture session, mixed with all the sense of dread that sits within every moment of sorrow or woe you have ever experienced. It is horrific, ugly, disturbed, complicated, thick with layering and above all, suffocating.

    Previous albums have been good, but have fallen down at the final hurdle. You can listen to them and tell there are amazing things going on in there, but the recording quality was simply not up to the challenge of adequately carrying it off. As a result, although good, the previous releases tended to shine only on the tracks which were smaller in scale and scope, and the grandiose tracks, where they really should shine, were left sounding muddled and too hazy to be successful.

    On the latest release, these issues with recording quality have been well and truly laid to rest. With careful and repeated listens, the layers of the songs begin to come apart, and the incredible depth of the work becomes amazingly apparent. This is not easy, nor happy listening, but it is thoroughly rewarding on many levels – unnerving, able to induce a real sense of discomfort, but satisfying.


    4 Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II (Dialogue With The Stars)
    Blut Aus Nord

    I did suggest this may be the best album of the year, when I first heard it, way back in February. In a year of ordinary releases , this may very well have ended up topping the poll, but this has been no ordinary year. I can’t remember a year when so many fantastic and genuinely quality releases have come out.

    The spiritual successor to Memoria Vetusta I (Fathers of the Icy Age), Blut Aus Nord go to strange and wonderful places with this release, which has with a heavier focus on structure and bending of sound, rather than outright crushing and mangling. Interestingly, to my ears, this album most logically in a stylistic sense, should follow The Word That Transforms God, with a nod to Memoria Vetusta I in the liner notes. It takes the comparatively straight edge Blackmetal of MV:I, the experimental nature of TWTTG, and adds to them a very clean, modern and melodic touch, without losing any of the dissonance that has so defined their releases of late (excluding the odd sounding Odinist).

    One thing that becomes clear early on in the listening to the album, as early as the first track in fact (aske (acceptance)) is that this album almost has an uplifting sense to it. It won’t sound uplifting to those not at all familiar with Blackmetal, as ultimately this is a dissonant Blackmetal release, but BAN do not on this release seem to dwell as deeply in the mire as many of their contemporaries. This may sound like a bit of an OMGQTFBBQ sort of moment for a Blackmetal band with the level of mystery around them that BAN have, but I can assure this is not in any way a deficiency in the music, it is quite intentional and quite wonderful.


    5 Harvestman – In a Dark Tongue
    Harvestman

    When compared to Lashing The Rye (LTR), Steve Von Till’s latest solo masterpiece is less outright folky, with greater emphasis on creating flowing ambient soundscapes, mixed with a stronger Neil Young influence in the guitar meanderings, of which there are a great deal more.
    Of course there is a fairly decent dose of the requisite bagpipes that were such a wonderful feature of the first release. A more structured and slightly more congruent feel than on LTR, and as ever, a man of many faces proves he is musically somewhat of a genius.

    The album evokes feelings of open dusty fields, humid hot nights, and sleeping bodies around the remnants of log fires, with not a stir but from the bugs in the dirt around them. You can almost feel the grit in your teeth, and yet at the same time the wind somehow blows cold.

    For such simply constructed sounds there is an overwhelming depth of emotion and imagery that comes with listening to this album.


    6 Urfaust – Einsiedler // Urfaust & Joyless – Split
    Urfaust 1
    Urfaust 2

    I have made this single entry on the top list a double, as between both releases there are still only 3 tracks between the two, and they probably only make one EP amongst them, but this is such good shit that it can be forgiven by me at least!

    In 2008, Urfaust release 3 untitled tracks on Drei Rituale Jenseits Des Kosmos. They showed a slower, more electronically influenced approach with these three tracks. Einsiedler, despite the deep distorted guitar tones that start proceedings (Verderber), continues with this tradition, although has a more organic feel overall.

    The track on the split that was released with Joyless, is a much firmer hark back to the sounds that brought them to where they are today – not in a bad or “we can’t be bothered really writing something new for this” sort of way, but in a wonderful riff of awesome power ++++++++ sort of way.

    Anyway. If you have never heard Urfaust, it will confuse and possibly annoy you. Willem’s vocals are extremely unique, at times lovelorn and crooned, at others horribly shrieked, and chortled. They always sit slightly behind the main thrust of the guitars/samples in the mix, and are delivered in long and stretched notes, lending them the air of an extra musical instrument. His vocal style, whilst strange at first, carries an immense weight of emotion and he moves and massages them to match the music magnificently.

    If there was a full length release from Urfaust (of which there has not been since 2005, it would almost certainly have made my number 1. This is emotive, challenging, dark and intriguing music at its magnificent best, let down only by how brief it is.


    7 Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions
    Sunn O)))

    Sunn O))) have become somewhat of a “fad” band to like – I realised this when I saw them featured on the cover of WIRE magazine. I find this very odd. The music is far from easy to digest sonically, and in reality is best served live, where it can be felt as well as heard. There are no catchy hooks, very little lyrically to catch people, so i’m not sure what has elevated them in such ways.

    Regardless of all that, this is a great album, just as it was always likely to be. Sunn O))) for me are a little like Urfaust – they generally can do no wrong. The inclusion of Attila Csihar as a seemingly integral part of the lineup, has done nothing to weaken the force of nature that this bands sound is. If anything, it has given it a dimension of strangeness it never held before. A sort of regal weird and sometimes violent deconstruction, added to the deeply meditative and “religious” sounds of the band. It may have sounded like a strange combination when it was first spoken of in hushed tones, but what an amazing success. O’Malley and Anderson have become poster children (as ironic as this is given their usual garb) for the rebirth of musical innovation, sonic experimentation, and the open pushing of the boundaries that define just what music is and isn’t.

    What really sets this release apart, not only from other Sunn O))) releases, but from the releases of many of their contemporaries, is the new sonic ground that is tread. This is not something you have heard before, nor is it something you have experienced before.


    8 Les Discrets and Alcest – Split
    Les Discrets /
    / ALcest

    I know I know, breaking all the rules, including EP’s and short splits and such, combining all my genre’s this year. I guess I just reached a point where I realised that the really great music often defies such simple categorisation, such boundaries are out of place when dealing with the boundless!

    First of all Alcest. I still long for the days of Le Secret, but at least one thing missing from Souvenirs Dun Autre Monde is here on one of these 2 tracks – Neige’s shrieking style of vocals. In fact what is most apparent from the 2 Alcest songs is that as well as the potential for a more Ethereal style of Alcest, Neige’s work in Amesoeurs has rubbed off. The guitars are exquisite and soar with a magical quality.

    Les Discrets are a band that to some degree have also sprung from the ashes of Amesoeurs. Fursy didhave this project prior to the end of Amesoeurs, but aside from a few soundscape pieces on myspace, ostensibly written to accompany his work as an animator, there was little to chalk up to the band. The 3 tracks presented here are delightful. They are not all amazing but they certainly hint at something that may be, and one of them does reach lofty heights (L' Échappée). Stylistically the songs sit well within the whole Post-x/blackwave type genres and will appeal to fans of Alcest, Amesoeurs, Caina, Fe, Smohalla and the like.


    9 Folkstorm – Ortodox
    Folkstorm

    Folkstorm are one of the many (All Hail the Transcending Ghost, D.I.N., Econocon, Hydra Head Nine, Incinerator International, Körperwelten, L/A/B, Lorv, Mz.412, Muskel, Pouppée Fabrikk, Drakh, Nordvargr, Goatvargr) faces of Henrik Norvargr Bjorkk. A man I have a great deal of respect for musically. The various releases he has let fly under the Folkstorm moniker have covered a wide range of musical ground. This latest album sounds very analogue, with distorted angry vocals sliding, distorted sines and squares, and dissonant droning. This is bleak industrial music at its finest.

    Don’t let the fact that this is in at 9 suggest that this is anything short of a masterpiece – its not. It is a bleak reflection of urban society and the malaise that grips so many. Uncompromising, dark, bleak – brilliant.


    10 Amesoeurs - Amesoeurs
    Amesoeurs

    And here it is. The one and only release from Amesoeurs, who have officially disbanded as at the release of this album. It seems odd how many people are waiting to slay everything that Neige produces. He seems to have become a little too cool for school for some people – the same people no doubt that heaped praise upon his various musical projects and created that very aura. The album was received well in the broader musical community, but amongst the notoriously fickle Post-<stuff> fans, particularly those that preference the heavier end of the post-<stuff> genre’s, this album has been a cause of much debate and heated argument.

    I for one, chose to judge the man by his music, and not the labels given to it, nor peoples opinions of him. Clearly if i based my love of music around such simple thoughts, i’d have no place liking Burzum.

    The music presented on this release is somewhat of a muddle of genre’s. It swings from quite muted post rock/post punk inspired edgy rock, through to heavier almost blackmetal bombast. It does not sound laboured or forced at any time, and is certainly unlike any other album I have heard before. All politics aside, this is an album worth hearing on its musical merits alone, the scenester wrangling is just a strange aside that really leaves me worried about what sort of intellectual capacity those drawn to music I love so dearly, really have. I weep for the youth of today.


    11 Black Sun Aeon – Darkness Walks Beside Me
    Black Sun Aeon

    Melodic extreme stuff. Holy crap. A melodic extreme album in my top lists. Another first for a great number of years. What that says immediately is that this is one corker of an album.

    Imagine if Opeth focused their song writing around a sense of movement, rather than musicality, and tinged it with range, and a hint of sadness. That’s the best way I can think of to define this release. It is quite simply some of the best melodic metal I have ever heard. The songs are well constructed, thoughtful, epic and never repetitive or boring. There is a welcome mix of vocal styles, and tempo’s throughout. Much of the vocal work is provided by guest vocalists, although this is not immediately apparent as they sing in similar styles through the album. Featured singers include Tomi Koivusaari, Ville Sorvali, Mynni Luukkainen and Mikko Heikkilä.

    What really makes this album such an amazing triumph is this is Tuomas Saukkonen’s first real foray into the world of doom and heavy music, and yet it is such a blindingly successful one.

    Worth the price of admission for the amazing A Song For My Funeral” alone. Talk about epic and moving.


    12 Rome – Flowers From Exile
    Rome

    It was a hard year to be making top lists. This spot could easily have gone to Sieben or Ossein, both of who produced fantastic albums in a vein quite similar to Rome’s Flowers From Exile.

    Why Rome over the others? Well, really because Rome are Rome. Jerome’s sublime voice is unmistakeable and instantly lends the music a sense of the familiar, and comfortable. That isn’t to say this is a rehash of what has come before because its not. This is a unique and as always progressive piece of sound from the Luxembourg based band.

    More than any of their recent releases, Flowers From Exile is accessible. The trend towards a more singer songwriter, or straight folk approach is well underway and continues at pace herein. Again, not at all a bad thing. The music remains wistful, romantic and at the same time stark and longing. I read a review somewhere that described the entire album as being bathed in an aural sepia tone. I think that really does describe well how the music sounds.


    <big13 De Magia Veterum – Midgal Bavel
    De Magia Veterum

    From the beautiful and sublime, to the beastial and shatteringly grinding. De Magia Veterum is a project of Mories (Gnaw Their Tongues) which has a more traditional metal sound. Don’t let the words “more traditional” lead you to think this is anything but a maddening and unsociably punishing noise. By more traditional, I really mean it has some guitars. Basically if you read what i wrote about #3, and apply some guitars and more traditional (again, don’t let that fool you too much :P) song structure, you pretty much have this album.

    It is fucking harrowing..... :D!


    14 Altar of Plagues – White Tomb
    Altar of Plagues

    Another of these odd genre strafing bands I have become so fond of. I have seen AoP called everything from Blackmetal to Post-Hardcore, and many strange things in between. As with any of the labels thrown at bands, they may help you to get an idea about a sound, but that is all. I think this may also be the first band from the Republic of Ireland to make my top lists as well.

    I remember reading a review that suggested this album was best listened to on headphones at 5am, in the heart of a largely desolated city. I couldn’t agree more. Like Amesoeurs and even to some degree Deathspell Omega, the music presented here speaks of the bleak and urban, the mundane and bleak, without referencing the sound of either of those bands particularly.

    Musically, the ground covered is extremely diverse. From the pulse and wall-of-sound style of Wolves In The Throne Room, to the minimalist drone of Earth. And yet there are still further sounds that feel as if they are new and I can’t relate them specifically. This is commanding music, that ebbs and flows, rises and falls and traverses a huge range of territories and moods.


    15 Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans
    Ahab

    Ahab are a doom band. They make music, mostly about the ocean. Given the depth to the sound they make, and the way it flows and ebbs, always with crushing weight, it seems apt. The sounds on the album lay out a journey. From drifting on wrecked peices of boat in the oceans at night, to being washed ashore and finding oneself stranded. Morose in topic, Ahab do not rely solely on despair and woe, and that is what makes this such a magnificent modern doom album.

    Importantly, Ahab seem to understand something many funeral doom bands seem to forget. Without day , the night is nothing out of the ordinary. Light and shade.


    16 Nordvargr – Interstellar II
    Nordvargr

    Another HNB project inside my top list. What a surprise. I maintain that my fanboyism does not impede my ability to actually judge his releases on their merit, it simply happens that in the sphere of dark, cold ambient music, Henrik Nordvargr Bjorkk is able to make real magic, as opposed to mere card tricks.

    Interstellar follows on in the same vein as the original release. Spacey, cold, vaguely sci-fi. Music for dark minds in dark rooms.


    17 Mono – Hymn to The Immortal Wind
    Mono

    A band that I can only hope to one day see live. Much like Sunn O))), I am told that the live performance, is a genuine experience, and ads an entire new dimension to the band, that will forever colour what you hear even in their recorded works.

    HTTIW is the first release in some 3 years for Mono, so has been quite some time coming. What was immediately obvious to me when I listened to this album, was how mature it sounded. Sure, it still has fits of angst and temper, but they are much less the focus, and play a supporting role. Much more central on this release to my ears, is something far more majestic and complex. The music is as we have come to expect, just more refined, more polished, and with some utterly jaw dropping orchestration. The sound may lose some of the fans who only ever got into Mono because of their more metallic moments, but those who engage their brains and listen closely, will be thoroughly rewarded with something that is more weighty that ever before, even if not as heavy.


    18 Lustmord – The Dark Places of Earth
    Lustmord 1

    As the album title may suggest, this is a purely dark ambient release from Brian Williams. He has primarily released this style of music under the Lustmord moniker, but there has been the odd variation or two to keep things interesting. One of four albums release during 2009, along with [B E Y O N D], [T R A N S M U T E D] and a reworking of 2008’s O T H E R, [O T H E R D U B]

    TDPoE is not an album that can satisfy immediately, it would make no sense to listen to it whilst driving, or during the day, and it lacks any sense of immediacy. So that rules out anyone born after 1985 from liking it.

    If you have time, and you want to drift to a darker place, then this is the slow and monotonous soundtrack to your journey.


    19 Lustmord – [B E Y O N D]
    Lustmord 2

    As with number 18, this is a dark ambient release again. It has much more momentum than TDPoE, and for most people will be a more enjoyable listen. When I say it has more momentum, I should be clear it is still a slow plodding album, it simply sounds more musical than TDPoE, and has a more identifiable structure, with gives the impression therefore of movement and development, rather than floating.


    20 Lifelover – Dekadens
    Lifelover

    Rounding out the top 20, is another EP. A particularly large EP at 6 songs mind you.

    There still seems to be a great deal of debate about whether Lifelover are anything other than a joke band. Many people complain about it being hard to take them seriously. I really don’t give a shit if they are taking the piss – if they keep making music this awesome, why should anyone?

    Following on in a similar style to Konkurs, the Dekadens EP is most noticeably different in its consistency. Unlike Konkurs, which was quite randomly cluttered together, and seemingly without any specific flow, Dekadens gels nicely and sounds like it makes sense. The music is probably slightly more rockish as well, but ()’s voice ensures it is certainly still confined to the realm of the extreme and avant-garde.

    Brilliantly rocking, still ugly and somewhat cheesy – all awesome.




    Worthy Mentions
    Nadja – Belles Betes
    Narrowly missing out on my top list, a fantastic brooding release. Possibly my favourite so far from the duo

    Jodis – Secret House
    Again a close contender. Beaten out only by Mono, who did a slightly better job of doing what they do

    Austere – To Lay Like Old Ashes
    Missed the top ten only due to last useless track, because this is otherwise an utterly astounding release. Australian too :D!

    Caina – Caina and Caina and Krieg – Split
    We need a new full length album. Meanwhile, more oddly recorded post/blackmetal/acoustic meanderings. Wonderful

    Axis of Perdition – Urfe (The Great Unwashed)
    Fantastic concept album. Worth hearing if only for curiosity sake.

    Diamatregon – Crossroad
    Fantastic old school balls out blackmetal. Nothing groundbreaking. Just solid and fucking good.

    Arcana Coelestia - Le Mirage de L'Idéal
    Crushing, slow funeral doom, with post-rock elements making this very interesting.

    Beherit – Engram
    The very same Beherit, back. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but really great none the less.

    Circle of Ouroborus - Tree of Knowledge
    This will shit a lot of listeners to tears. It sounds terrible, the singing is out of tune, the guitars seem misplaced, and they ruin other peoples songs when they do covers, but it has some sort of strangely awesome attraction for me.

    Code - Resplendent Grotesque
    Not as mind bogglingly awesome as the first album. Still good though.

    Enmerkar – Starlit Passage
    More blackwave/post something/blackmetal awesomeness. In the same basket as Lantlos and such.

    Bloodhorse – Horizoner
    Good old fashioned heavy doom rock, like modernised Sabbath. Not nearly as wanky as Wolfmother.

    Immortal – All Shall Fall
    The first album since.. 2003?? I think. Tops! Sure it will shit some purists, just like “Between Two Worlds” did. Likely they are missing the point entirely. Hopefully they tour again and play so hard that my pants rip right off, again.

    Nargaroth – Jahreszeiten
    Ok, so everyone hates Nargaroth, or wants to have sweaty man sex with him. Who cares if he is a total retard and highly lucky to have escaped his own homelands Activ foundation dragnet. He makes some interesting tunes.

    November’s Doom - Into Night's Requiem Infernal
    More excellent doom from the ever reliable November’s Doom.

    Nurse With Wound - The Surveillance Lounge
    More NWW awesomeness.

    Sieben – As They Should Sound
    My greatest neo-folk discovery of the year. I knew of them before, but never really got it. Now I do. A beautiful and moody album.

    Satanismo Calibro 9 – Supernova
    One of the weird and wonderful bands I discovered via Old Europa Cafe (www.oldeuropacafe.com/). Kickass electronic/noise/weirdness

    Teitanblood – Seven Chalices
    I have noticed a great deal of people listing this as their number 1 blackmetal release for 2009. I like it, but definitely don’t see it as that amazing. Still good though if you feel like a really solid old school grindy blackmetal ear bashing.

    Cobalt – Gin
    Quite different from “Eater of Birds”. With hints of crust punk, drone, doom and god knows what else. Features guest work by Jarboe and Dave Otero. I’ve seen it called “Gonzo Underground Music”. Certainly very popular with the WIRED set and oddly considered quite trendy (is it the military linkage??)

    Wumpscutt – Fuckit and Wumpscutt Bunkertor 7.
    :W: do what they do, well. Fuckit is no different. Yes I Know Bukertor 7 came out ages ago. It has not been remixed either. It has been entirely re-recorded and updated!

    Yoga – Megafauna
    The recording quality is low on this, which is a shame, otherwise it’d prolly be top list material. Great grinding black/doom/weirdness.

    Den Saakaldte – All Hail Pessimism
    Better than whatever crap Shining released this year. I know many people liked the new Shining. I didn’t. I much preferred this. The horns are just <3

    Crippled Black Phoenix – The ressurectionists
    Beautiful EiTS style post rock, blended with mad 70’s psychadelia influenced rock and loosely strung stoner. Wide variety of sounds, all of it awesome.

    Ossein – Fuhrer
    Amazing neo-folk. A real journey from the sublime to suffering. I really struggled between choosing this or Rome for my top list.

    Wardruna - Runaljod - gap var ginnunga
    Features Gaahl of Darkseed (Gorgoroth) as well as Lindy Fay Hella and Arne Sandvoll, amongst others. Norse folk music with a really deep and heaving sound.

    Insomnium - Across The Dark
    2 melodic albums mentioned in 1 year. Ye gods. Insomnium rock pretty darn hard though.

    Njiqahdda - Taegnuub: Ishnji Angma
    Doomy, atmospheric metal.

    Madder Mortem - Eight Ways
    A softer album in terms of outright volume from Madder Mortem, but Agnete’s voice sounds.. desperate and stretched at times. Quite an amazing peice of music

    Isis – Wavering Radiant
    Another great release by Isis. More thoughtfully constructed than previous releases, but equally as enchanting.

    Tamtrum – Fuck you I’m Drunk – Stronger Than Cats
    Much less black electronic and more just electronic/Industrial/EBM sounding. Still great, still massively unhinged.

    Arckanum - ÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞÞ
    No idea how i am meant to pronounce the album name. Musically, as bonkers as the album name suggests. And grim. Awesome!

    Atrium Carceri - Phrenitis
    Ass kicking dark ambient.

    Raison D'être - The Stains of the Embodied Sacrifice
    Not necessarily his greatest ever work, but certainly up there.

    Death in June – Lesson 1: Misanthropy (remastered)
    A classic album. Sounds even better now.

    Russian Circles - Geneva
    Beautifully wrought heavy guitared rock.

    <bigThe Gathering – The West Pole
    Further than ever from their metal heritage, it matters not one iota. Because the music is still really damn good. And that voice <3




    Oh Dear
    Les tenebres – and the waves came crashing down
    Umm. For some reason this got some big write ups. It sounds terrible to my poor ears.

    Gorgoroth - Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem (as opposed to the new former Gorgoroth, Darkseed.)
    Gaahl really does seem to have been proven right. This is not particularly interesting. Sure its not horrible, but its something much worse – boring!

    Katatonia – Night is the new day
    I know plenty of people that like it, I just find it too much of the same. I put it in the same basket as the great cold distance. Great at first listen, but lacking any charm when you dig deeper.

    Manes – Solve Et Coagula
    1 great track then a whole bunch of WTF. Seriously. W T F.

    Buckethead – Forensic Follies
    I have no idea what happened here. Who’s idea was it to just take normal Bucketheadsongs and add 1/100th of a second of silence for every half second of sound. Another big WTF.

    Devin Townsend – Ki
    Also a WTF. So tepid, and.. flat.. and.. yuck.

    Lacrimosa – Sensucht
    Wow. Boooooring. I was expecting this to be great. I could only find one song i didn’t hate so much that i was willing to play on air, even then i still felt bad for everyone listening. Lacks any new ideas or sounds.

    Nadja – When I See The Sun Always Shines on TV
    Fantastic concept for an album, total failure in reality.

    Lonley Island – Incredibad
    I love this album. But by admitting that, i am admitting i find farts funny. You do, we all do, but admitting that to someone of the opposite gender (unless you marry them) is like admitting you not only find them funny, but sometimes you totally dig the smells of them, in a proud fatherly sort of way.

    Wolves In The Throne Room – Black Cascade / Malevolent Grain
    Yes, i do like Black Cascade. Not so Malevolent Grain. Either way, when listened to in isolation, they both are good solid albums. When listened to off the back of Two Hunters or Diadem of 12 Stars, they are a let down.

    My Dying Bride – The Lies I Sire
    Similarly to WITTR. This album was a let down. Not bad in Isolation.




    Releases I am already on the hunt for, due in 2010
    Anathema Finally
    Death In June - symbols and clouds
    Ihsahn – After (listening to it right now. MINT! Heavy use of Saxophone is <3 )
    Alcest
    Red Sparowes
    Abigor - Time Is The Sulphur In The Veins Of The Saint
    Burzum
    Negura Bunget - Vîrstele Pamîntului
    Daughters
    Tenhi!




















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