Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 in review - hope and the hopeless

Let me just start by emptying all the negative charge of this addendum to the big top 100 list - while I may poke (mostly) gentle fun at bands or genres during the course of my many ramblings, I don't really harbour any hatred for any band or musician. And I know how to not generalize mindlessly whenever I don't connect with an album like I expected to. And an album that I don't like doesn't affect the previous albums that I might have loved or my personal evaluation of the band in question's future work, as you'll see by a few of these - in fact, if I had expectations at all, it just means that I was a fan already. So there, that's all the moral disclaimers I need. And they're not just because I know people who are in a few of those bands.

To make it all better, I'll also mention ten bands whose albums I'm really looking forward to in 2011 right now.

Ten albums that I would have expected to figure in my top list of 2010:

AGALLOCH Marrow Of The Spirit
I've seen this very high up on a lot of lists, some of them quite close to my own otherwise, so I'm further and further convinced that something is broken inside my head. I love Agalloch, I've listened to The Mantle and Ashes Against The Grain especially more times than I can count, and I waited with bated breath for this album for months. I even did something that I rarely do - emailed record label people to get a promo, in case I wasn't getting one from any magazine that I write for. And then I got it. And then... nothing happened. The album totally passed me by, regardless of the number of listens. Because of how I love this band, I gave it chance after chance after chance, almost forcing myself to like it. If it worked for the first A Storm Of Light album (kind of), it should work for Agalloch too. Well, it hasn't yet. It just feels uneventful and way too understated for me, the atmosphere doesn't envelop me and I end up drifting off halfway. 

ALCEST Écailles De Lune
Alcest's first album, Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde, featured very highly on my 2007 list, and they even surprised me live, where they're much more energetic and cohesive than I might expect. This album, however, fell quite short of what I expected for a follow-up. It's great at first, mostly because it's basically more of the same that worked so well on Souvenirs..., but I feel much less depth than before, and I haven't touched it since, or even felt like it. 

CATHEDRAL The Guessing Game
I've always liked the idea of Cathedral more than the band itself, truth be told. Looking at their discography, only Forest Of Equilibrium and Endtyme stand out as albums I really, really liked. The rest, I always find them too hippie, in a bad way, too meandering, too... happy? So it should come as no surprise that I found The Guessing Game to be a gigantic, neverending yawn, unlike many of my friends and peers who assure me it's amazing. Still, I always have that shred of hope that I'll be blown away by Lee Dorrian and the boys. Maybe next time.

I actually got a hold of Paracletus a few days before the deadline to submit my top 20 for magazines to compile the votes, so I listened to it intensely for almost a week to see where it would land on the list. I don't think I've ever placed a Deathspell Omega album below the top 5 of each year where they have been released, so it seemed obvious it would be there. The painful conclusion after that week was that it wouldn't be. People have tried to come up with explanations as to why I'm not into it, and I've seen in some forums some very heated arguments about this album, but all I can offer is that it sounds way too jazzy and way too tame for what I expect a Deathspell Omega album to be. I recognize the musicianship and the talent, but the exhilarating rush of before simply isn't there.

ENSLAVED Axioma Ethica Odini
Another one that's on the top 3 of most lists I've seen, and I've been an obsessive Enslaved fan for many years. Dude, I remember the Frost CD never leaving my Discman for weeks on the way to school and back. I never got stuck on a particular phase either - I loved it when they totally expanded horizons with Mardraum - Beyond The Within, I went berserk with glee when they threw post-metal into the mix with Isa and Ruun, but then, painfully and unexpectedly, they totally lost me with Vertebrae. Proggy, clean-vocal-focused, weak and technical instead of from-the-gut and all-consuming like they had always been. Cerebral, rather than soulful. I might be sounding like a total prog-hater, but it's nothing of the sort. I just happen to think that when bands that had nothing to do with that sound suddenly get all pretentious on us, it's rarely a good thing. Well, Axioma Ethica Odini is Ruun to Vertebrae's Isa, so it's more of the same except a slight bit different. Herbrand sings more, which, again, is not a good thing. I'll sit on my hands until they get off this prog kick and move on to the next Enslaved chapter, so I can be a fan again. Oh, and Steve Wilson: HANDS OFF THIS BAND. DON'T. EVEN. THINK. ABOUT. IT.

...Of Frost And War was in my 2008 top 20, not only for the pleasure of hearing Martin Van Drunen's raw and powerful vocals again but because it was simply one of the best death metal albums of the decade. On Divine Winds is not bad, by all means, and it's even better than most bog-standard death metal being released these days, but the standard for this band is much higher than that. It feels like simply more of the same, like it was written on autopilot. Even for a band that is better on autopilot than most similar bands trying hard, it's not enough.

HIGH ON FIRE Snakes For The Divine
My issue with this one is simple - not enough balls. Which is ironic, asking for more balls from the great Matt Pike, whose own balls probably weigh more than the whole of wimpy old me after a big Portuguese lunch. But still Snakes For The Divine seems to suffer from an overall Mastodonization, a disease raging through many a band these days, manifesting itself with lots of clean singing and attempts of a higher level of musicianship resulting in a sudden burst of popularity, at the cost of losing vast amounts of previously shown raw power and aggression.

KYLESA Spiral Shadow
Another case of Mastodonization, in a way, albeit with less obvious symptoms. I had a lot of time for Static Tensions, it made my top 10 of 2009, but then I saw them live and it was atrocious. Twice. Static Tensions is still amazing, but it pains me a little bit knowing that the band seemingly can't really play those songs for real. So maybe my perception of Kylesa has changed because of that huge disappointment, but Spiral Shadow seems to be a case of too little, too soon. A couple of good songs, but mostly (even if they had more time than it seems to write it, since Static Tensions had been ready for quite a while when it came out) a strike-while-the-iron-is-hot kinda record, ironically the first one that got them plastered all over magazine covers around the world. I think it'd be best for me to reset my comprehension of this band for a couple of years, and hopefully they'll help with a kickass next album. Around 2012 or so, okay?

NEVERMORE The Obsidian Conspiracy
I remember This Godless Endeavor got 10/10 in Terrorizer, and even if I'm not at all comfortable with perfect ratings, I totally understood why. It's a faultless album, it has everything - a storyline, devastating power, superbly crafted songs, an amazing range of vocals, epics, ballads and ragers, technique used for shredding instead of wanking, you name it. Everything that the bland and uninspired The Obsidian Conspiracy is missing. It's almost as if Death Magnetic had come out after Master Of Puppets, to put it that way.

Now then, enough with the negativity. On to...

Ten bands whose albums I hope to have in my top list of 2011. Do not disappoint me.

Not even sure if there will be a full-length in 2011, but with two awesome 7" EPs this year, there'd better be, it'd better kick ass.

CROWBAR Sever The Wicked Hand
The best sludge band in the world will finally release their new album in February, five years after Lifesblood For The Downtrodden. The two songs they've streamed so far, 'Let Me Mourn' and 'The Cemetary Angels', are awesome and have shown Crowbar are in tip top form, so expectation is huge for this.

That first four-song demo would have probably topped my non-album release list if I had ordered it that way, so let's have a proper album now, shall we?

The skeleton of new material they played at South Of Mainstream 2010 was extremely impressive, the new line-up kicks ass in every way and the great beast has been recorded successfully, so bring it on!

This one is almost cheating, because I have the album already, I know it's mindblowing and I've even written about it. Still, it's a 2011 release anyway, and it doesn't hurt to praise them an extra bit more.

Anything but an album of the year is unacceptable, and judging by the new material revealed in London, they're well on their way for yet another lasting mark on extreme music.

Recordings have been finished this week, and since the last two unforgettable albums have seen Primordial shooting into the stratosphere in terms of quality and relevance, I expect nothing less once more.

By far and away the best band in Portugal right now, they have just released a limited remix EP called The Circle, and hopefully the gigantic Erosion will have a successor in 2011.

Those who've been lucky enough to catch their latest shows have witnessed a critical mass of music of rare proportions. If they carry that aura of magic over to the album, it will be quite serious.

Not that I'm done spinning their entire discography on a day in day out basis, but one more piece of Trap Them's unrelenting, intelligent, in-your-face intensity would be a very good thing indeed. The space on my shelf is reserved, guys. Get it done.


  1. You owe me $4 for use of the term 'Mastodonization'.

  2. Seriously? :D

    When did you use it? I don't recall seeing it on the Living Doorway and now I'm curious, link me!



  4. Yes, the search function. Useful, sometimes. *facepalm*

    But yes! Predating my use of it by over a year, that's $4 plus interest I owe you, I think. In my defense, I have to say I've used that term often in spoken conversation, and also that I shamefully did not read TLD on November 2009.

    That last one's a lame excuse though - when I discovered the blog I backtracked quite a bit, and that band from that entry in particular I remember as being one of the bands I discovered on that journey to the past of TLD, so I've actually read that before. :)

  5. oh man, that rules.

    Great job on all of your picks this year, my friend. Let's hope 2011 is just as good.