Saturday, December 31, 2011

screw 2011

I was all geared up to do something pretty along the lines of this post from last year, but really, what's the point? Everyone has had enough of lists by now, including me, and the conclusions anyone would draw from a list of disappointments and a list of things I'm looking forward to are also incredibly obvious and can be summed up in a few lines.

Yeah, Neurosis and -(16)- will probably be my two albums of the year come the 2012 lists. And the shit I've heard of 2012, like the new Lord Mantis that is currently destroying my neighbours' party mood, already promises yet another rich year.

As for all the bitterness, naturally the competition over the biggest steaming turd award of 2011 was fiercely fought between the 'Lulu' and 'Illud pig-latin whatever' atrocities. I still have very, very little time for the massively overrated Mastodon or Opeth, I'm agonizingly sick of things like a) Enslaved being prog, b) Boris albums and c) albums with Mike Patton on them (The Book Of Knots excepted), the Fucked Up album was more or less three and a half hours longer than it should have been, Charred Walls Of The Damned still sound absolutely nothing like any of the talented people that constitute the line-up, people like Machine Head, Venom, Amon Amarth and Deicide behaved like fat, established aristocrats who don't even need to fart loud enough for units to be sold and put out albums blander than bone-dry rice cakes, and the Anathema and Burzum re-recordings were the equivalent of doing this all over the material they should have left the fuck alone.

And that's it. Now go and get drunk and I'll see you all next year. Here's the coolest music video of the year/ever.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 in review - best gigs

That's right, I ain't done with listing things yet. The quantity of great concerts I've been to this year has been almost proportional to the pile of awesome records that have further filled my shelves, and I managed to finally have the live experience with some of my favourite bands ever. So here's the shows I'll remember most fondly from 2011.

All videos by Luana Magalhães and photos by me or her unless otherwise noted.


(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 15th)
One of the most defining and important bands in my life, that I had never even considered possible seeing live. I was in complete disbelief when they were announced for my favourite festival, and I could barely move during the minimalist, suffocating performance. It was exactly how I imagined them - looking like regular guys, barely moving, just laying down the doom horror exactly as we've known it for over 20 years now. Unforgettable.

(video by kkpgijsbers)

(@ Aula Magna, Lisboa, Portugal / Apr 9th and during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 16th)
Swans have for me the same importance as Winter and I had established the same resignation at never seeing them live before Michael Gira reactivated the band, so two obliterating performances in 7 days were almost overkill. One of the most intense musical experiences you can ever have.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 14th and during SWR Festival / @ Barroselas, Portugal / May 1st)
It was inevitable that the band responsible for my album of the year would show the same kind of form on stage, and so they did. On both these occasions they rose high above the very high standards of the two festivals and showed they're going through one of the best, if not the best, periods of their entire career.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 14th)
They raised a moshpit at Roadburn! That along is testament to the way Trap Them can bring the hellish chaos of their records to the stage, but here's the super-heavy 'Scars Allign' to convince you.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 15th and during Amplifest / @ Hard Club, Porto, Portugal / Oct 30th)
It's been the year of the "finally!", and those dream fulfilments came in copious amounts. Again, an esssential band in my musical upbringing and again two shows in the same year - a 'Streetcleaner'+'Tiny Tears' special at Roadburn and a slightly more varied set at Amplifest, but both of them as crushing as only Godflesh can be.

(during Seven Churches Festival / @ The Fighting Cocks, London, UK / Jun 25th)
"Do you like AC/DC? Do you know 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap'?," Black Sun's Russell McEwan asked me a couple of hours before this show. "Who doesn't?" I offered as reply to both questions. Then he asked if I wanted to sing it with them, which I politely denied. No one's ever done a crime heinous enough to warrant hearing me sing as a punishment. Unfortunately, between that moment and the time of the show, I had a few alcoholic incidents, and then all hell broke loose.

(photo by Antony Roberts)

(with Orthodox / @ Santiago Alquimista, Lisboa, Portugal / Mar 7th)
I spoke at length of this show here.

(during Eistnaflug / @ Egilsbúð, Neskaupstaður, Iceland / Jul 7th)
Sólstafir, playing in their home country, in front of a fjord, performing songs from the then-unreleased 'Svartir Sandar', before an enraptured audience. Oh yes.

(video by karlhr)

(with Die Weisse Rose / @ Casa de Lafões, Lisboa, Portugal / Oct 15th)
Douglas Pearce alone with a drum and an acoustic guitar (and that creepy mask that he took off after one song) is able to create one of the thickest, most enveloping atmospheres I've ever witnessed at a show. The renditions of the songs from 'But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter?' were particularly harrowing.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 15th and during SWR Festival / @ Barroselas, Portugal / Apr 29th)
The Canadian duo must be used to performing in front of bewildered audiences, which happened on the SWR date, but for those in sync with their art, a Menace Ruine concert becomes almost ritualistic. Even with a nagging amp failure at Roadburn, they reproduced the best songs of their albums faithfully and with extreme passion.

(during Eistnaflug / @ Egilsbúð, Neskaupstaður, Iceland / Jul 9th)Text
It's great to see Tom G. Warrior enjoying himself. Triptykon live shows are a mix between a cracking new band playing their very best songs and a Celtic Frost best-of, almost as a celebration of the great man's enduring, timeless talent.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 15th)
There's a lot of hatred for Ghost, but come on, people. Lighten up. The songs are solid and catchy, their image is well constructed and much more than just a gimmick and, above all, it's great fun. And if you think they're not a serious band, then you probably need to see them live. This show was a revelation for me, and they more than lived up to their theatrics - a tight, strong band, making the songs have even more impact than the album versions.

(video by kkpgijsbers)

(during Roadburn Afterburner / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 17th)
The look on vocalist/guitarist Uchino's face when he saw the huge projection of the Coffins logo on the 013's main stage, right at the start of the gig, really says everything about this show. The Japanese band seemed as happy to be on stage as us old-school death metallers were about their presence on the Roadburn Afterburner event. The crusty, cavernous filth they spewed forth for almost an hour was exactly what the day needed.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 16th)
Candlemass were playing and I still abandoned their epic gig for 45 minutes or so because Black Math Horseman are simply unmissable. The dark siren-like chants of Tera Simms weave around Bryan Tulao's huge riffs for an enchanting experience.

(during SWR Festival / @ Barroselas, Portugal / May 1st)
An epic show of savagery, nothing more, nothing less. These guys tap into some primal inner source of rage and everyone in the audience seemingly just wants to start slapping each other hard. Even their encore, nearly forced by that enraged audience, was pissed off.

(during Seven Churches Festival / @ The Fighting Cocks, London, UK / Jun 25th)
I've talked about them often, they're one of my favourite new bands from Europe, and this was my moment of discovery.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ Midi Theater, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 16th)
I'm not a big fan of Year Of No Light sans former vocalist Julien Perez, I must admit with some sadness, but this show was special - the band played a full soundtrack, of their own writing, to the classic expressionist horror film Vampyr, and it was terrifyingly awesome.

(during Roadburn Festival / @ 013, Tilburg, Holland / Apr 14th)
Read the Trap Them description and apply to the smaller room of the 013. Immense fury.

19. YOB
(with Dark Castle and Kongh / @ Hard Club, Porto, Portugal / Oct 6th)
Not only YOB, but all three bands in the bill put on remarkably heavy, unrestrained performances this night. I traveled 300km to see them and it was worth every hour on the road, as YOB keep their permanent evolution with, this time, a grainier, colossal sound. And Mike is still one of the nicest people in the world.

(during Bracara Extreme Fest / @ CC Braga Viva, Braga, Portugal / Dec 10th)
That is all. Or you can read the festival review.

(shitty video made by my iPhone, and yes, those are my fingers)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 in review - album of the year

TODAY IS THE DAY Pain Is A Warning

This should come as no surprise. Most of you that know me or comment on The long way home.'s facebook or my own have already guessed it, in fact. My admiration for Steve Austin and Today Is The Day has been obvious for years, and this year it went into total overdrive. You might have watched me going berserk up front if you were at SWR or Roadburn when they played two earth-shaking concerts like a band approaching the apocalypse (it should be said at this point that, despite the illustrious people who have passed through Today Is The Day's line-up, this is the most solid and crushing formation the band has ever had - hats duly tipped, Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Jones), two performances which prompted me to write a super excited band of the week post even before I had heard the album. Then, when I finally got 'Pain Is A Warning', it annihilated anything else I might have listened to for a month or so. At home, in the car or on my portable music player, nothing else was allowed. I was lucky enough to be the one to review it when it was awarded album of the month on Terrorizer, already proclaiming it album of the year in August. Recently I've lavished yet more praise on it on a radio show in which I guested, poisoning the minds of more youth with the malicious seed of Steve Austin. I've become so associated with this record that JGD even mentioned me when he talked about it on The Living Doorway's list. Several months and several hundred plays later, and the fascination hasn't diminished - it's playing right now as I type this (it's on 'Remember To Forget', to be precise) and I'm still stopping my writing often just to appreciate it properly during the most affecting bits. Why?

 I've said it before, and it seems to become more relevant as time goes by, as new and recycled musical genres appear, disappear and reappear, as music itself and the way we approach and listen to it changes: never underestimate the power of a great song. Regardless of its simplicity (or complexity), a great song is universal. It stays within the listener, it's owned and becomes part of him as it's reinterpreted through his own experience and his own set of world-perceiving lenses. What constitutes a great song might be subjective - it's not just catchiness, or lasting power, or technical ability, or a great sound (although the Kurt Ballou work on this should be praised greatly), or a great voice, or a great story. It's a combination of everything with an extra little magic dust, but you know it when you hear it, and it stays with you. You'll always recognize it and stop what you're doing when you hear it somewhere. That's what 'Pain Is A Warning' is. All the way through. It happens nine times when you play it. It's a collection of nine great songs, stripped of everything that isn't the absolute essential and structured and alligned in such a way that the sum of which is even greater than their individual brilliance.

I don't think anyone realistically expects anything specific for each Today Is The Day release, so this has to be classified as a surprise. But if you look at the past discography - and listen to it, regularly - it makes perfect sense. It's like those ads, what to give the man who has everything?, what could Steve Austin do with Today Is The Day that he hadn't done before, and better than anyone else? Only this. Only this and nothing more. Strip down the chaos, the pain, the rage, the fire, bare them out in the open for all to see. If all it takes for a song to reach through to someone is beating on the same riff for three minutes, then so be it. If your message is such that you just have to sing low and quiet to express it, then so be it. No artistry, no witchery, no pretend, no posturing, no faking. Just truth. That's Today Is The Day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 4/4)

25. TOXIC HOLOCAUST Conjure And Command
If you have a single ounce of a thrasher in you, your body will instinctively react to this album. Dark, rough and rampant, 'Conjure And Command' is the best thrash album in years, an unstoppable bulldozer of grainy thrash like no one does it anymore. Especially not those who really try very hard to do it, like all those silly neo-thrashers who've been polluting us these past few years. One listen of 'Bitch', or really any of the other nine metal-thrashin'-mad songs, will annihilate posers to dust.

24. CAÏNA Hands That Pluck
I practically wrote an ode to this one. It got me all dreamy and philosophical and shit. Damn you, Andy.

23. WOLD Freermasonry
It'll rape your ears and it'll consume your mind too. It did to me, at least. And I loved it.

22. ADERLATING Spear Of Gold And Seraphim Bone Pt. 1 / CLOAK OF ALTERING The Night Comes Illuminated With Death / DE MAGIA VETERUM The Divine Antithesis / GNAW THEIR TONGUES Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras
It's all Mories. Sickness, disease, blasphemy and celestial devastation pours forth from this man's mind like a wound that bleeds afresh, and yes, that's a reference to one of his songs. My long time affair with Gnaw Their Tongues' horrific soundscapes is well documented throughout this blog, and 'Per Flagellum Sanguemque, Tenebras' is yet one more step into the abyss, thickly orchestral yet perversely subterranean in its glorification of misery. Cloak Of Altering is a different, new beast that emerges from the carcass of an older one, and so I made them band of the week when the album came out. Aderlating got the exact same treatment, obviously, while I was being consumed by that spooky piece of blue madness. Finally, De Magia Veterum's blindingly unrelenting album came out earlier in the year and I was lucky enough to review it for Terrorizer, and "deluge of sonic information", as I put it in the end of that text, does sound just about right to describe how fucked your brain will be after prolonged exposure to any of these four twisted pieces of music from hell.

21. VIRUS The Agent That Shapes The Desert
This album has been responsible for more hits on my blog than any other, all because of this unassuming little post here. The album wasn't out yet when I said that, and I didn't even mean to brag about it or anything, but it sparked a tidal wave of hits on that page during the next days, of desperate people looking for a download link and probably being bitterly disappointed when they reached a blog that's made of just words and none of them is "mediafire". Having said that, the excitement is understandable. This is like 'The Black Flux' gone down a volcano and out on the other side of the earth, all twisted and spitting fire and brimstone and confusing blackjazz (the real one)gone very, very wrong. All these months later and I'm still trying to figure out a lot of it, but it's been a hell of a ride.

20. NECROS CHRISTOS Doom Of The Occvlt
Have you checked out The Living Doorway's list? Go on, it's much cooler than this one, and it also features Necros Christos. JGD eloquently says about it that "thee unholy doomened death of Necros Christos shall foul your soul with rapacious desecration of mind, body and spirit," and yeah, that's it. Why come up with something when all else has been said? 'Doom Of The Occvlt' is a goddamn unholy ritual of darkness, with chants and growls, twisting riffs and pants-shittingly intimidating atmospheres.

19. LOSS Despond
It might look like a rather limited genre, but it's still possible to create funeral doom that sounds new and relevant. Loss' debut album is the best one of its kind in many, many years, and it's absolutely soul-shattering. It will descend upon you slowly and unstoppably, a hopeless and hopelessly slow dissection of all the sadness and tragedy of this world. If you're feeling vaguely suicidal, just put it on. It'll be the last push you'll need.

18. J MASCIS Several Shades Of Why
I don't even know how to approach this one. J Mascis and his guitar have single-handedly converted me to a big, soft pile of mush and awe. The songs are simple but hit with the emotional power of a locomotive. It's not like Dinosaur Jr is a barren desert of feelings, but this much depth and lyrical nakedness is quite surprising from the quiet and usually deadpan J. I can picture myself in 30 years still listening to this regularly, and I guess that says it all.

17. 40 WATT SUN The Inside Room
Speaking of feelings, that's something that happens inside you when Patrick Walker opens his mouth to sing. Something snaps, something's switched off, or on, I don't know. It's melancholy, it's bitterness, it's longing, it's sadness, it's all your failures coming back to parade before your eyes. It's a cleaner, more peaceful and elegant suicide you'll want after this than after Loss, but you'll still want out.

16. THE ATLAS MOTH An Ache For The Distance
Everything fits in The Atlas Moth cauldron - from black metal to stoner, psychedelia and a lot of blues, anything but filler. As vocalist/guitarist Stavros told me during an interview for a magazine when the album was released, they've made the band's sound leaner and more to-the-point than on the 'A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky' album. Wonderful as that one was, it does sound a stepstone towards a proper grown-man slab of heavy, mature music that is this record. Their use of David Kush's cleaning vocals in tandem with Stavros' full-throated roars is brilliant enough to use as a learning tape for the Mastodons of this world, and the entire journey of this album is full of "arrival" moments like that, moments when a band shows that they are absolutely sure what their personality is and of the best way to make it shine through.

15. AUTOPSY Macabre Eternal
It would have been so easy to just turn on the death metal autopilot and release any old pile of ugly riffs, and we would have probably lapped it up as well. It's fuckin' Autopsy, and they're back! We have a right to be excited, damn it! This band alongside Winter changed my perception of music and set me on a perpetual quest for the foulest sounds possible for the rest of my life. And now they're back, right in the middle of a little revival of all things death metal and old and dirty, and they honour their legacy with a record that will stand the test of time, a record that can be proudly shelved next to 'Mental Funeral' or 'Severed Survival', those two especially. It's rude, it's tasteless, it's ugly and it's as addictive as only the most rancid death metal can be. As only Autopsy can be.

14. SÓLSTAFIR Svartir Sandar
It's been a succession of revelations. There was the initial fascinating shock of 'Masterpiece Of Bitterness' in 2005, then another leap with 'Köld' in 2009, then seeing them live in 2010, then actually meeting them in their own country this year and listening to the album with them and then watching them perform several songs off it a few hours later. And then receiving the album at last and listening to it over and over in utter silence and, again, fascination. Always a growth, always discovering more details to love about this Icelandic bunch of good-humoured cowboyvikings. Addi the vocalist likes to joke that they're like Duran Duran with distortion pedals, but there's so much more than that going on throughout these two discs. Epic but intimate, mellow but fiery, expertly balanced in the way that it grows until the final climax, it's a memorable record all the way, it's one of the most ambitious of the year, and it delivers on all counts. And I'm still waiting to hear from my doctor on how to remove the main melody of 'Fjara' out of my head.

13. THE BOOK OF KNOTS Garden Of Fainting Stars
It throws at you one of the most unforgettably infectious songs of the year right off the bat, then a creepy Blixa Bargeld incarnating a spy (probably) talking about international airport mystery and fruit flies, Nils Frykdahl and Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) comparing moondust to gunpowder and even Mike Patton, sick to the back teeth as we probably all are of seeing him pop up on every second record, lays down a remarkable vocal performance. There are a lot more guests and endless little details that will derail your thoughts like the heaviest, most disorienting of jetlags would (yeah, there's an aviation theme too), but where for a lesser band it would all amount to an over-ambitious, disjointed mess, for The Book Of Knots it turns out into a completely coherent work of genius. Here's my Terrorizer review for a slightly more structured opinion:

"Even more so than on its two predecessors, ‘Garden…’, the closing chapter on a conceptual sea-land-air trilogy, amazes by the way this insanely talented quartet manage to keep everything together. Its cohesiveness is remarkable, considering not only the presence of weirdo guests (seriously, Mike Patton, Blixa Bargeld, Mike Watt, it’s enough for a spontaneous headache) on most songs, but also the ambitiously fractured approach to the songwriting itself. At first it’ll feel like they’re merely randomly throwing bits of soundtracks to movies that never existed, chamber music gone wrong or the odd moment of eerie violence at you, but soon those scraps will reveal themselves as part of a terrifyingly epic whole you won’t be able to let go of. Difficult, twisted, but endlessly rewarding."

12. ANCIENT VVISDOM A Godlike Inferno / HEXVESSEL Dawnbearer
The devil is in the details, they say, but nowadays those details don't really include electricity. AVV are the most Satanically charged of these two remarkable projects, a sort of Ghost-like but serious approach to their demonic summonings in the sense that they let the melodies and the harmonies lullabye you into hellish submission. Acoustic guitars, deep clean vocals and a great focus on Nathan Opposition's percussion give these songs a genuine, ritualistic ambiance that embodies everything the currently overused term "occult" should mean. Hexvessel is Mathew McNerney, or Kvohst as he was better known during his memorable stints in Dødheimsgard or <code>, among others, digging deep through his heathen British roots. 'Dawnbearer' is a profoundly touching, hazy work of psychedelic British folk, a sort of update to the Canterbury sound through the eyes of a musician with a different background but who is able to capture the very same essence as the genre pioneers, with an extra dash of maliciousness.

11. RWAKE Rest
My review of this album that was published on Rock-a-Rolla magazine is exhaustive enough to explain why anyone into heavy music of any kind should go crazy over this record. A true career highlight.

"Make sure you’ve got someone with you to take a picture of your face after your first listen to Rest. We should all send them to the band so they’ll make a little collage out of it, and that would work better than any review. All those goggly eyes and open mouths. You see, regardless of expectations, and I’m sure most of yours were huge, Rest will surprise, enthrall and affect you in ways you wouldn’t imagine it to. After the spooky intro sets the mood, the band dump the 12 minutes of ‘It Was Beautiful But Now It’s Sour’, probably their best song ever, on your lap, and that’s the start of almost an hour of juggling intense emotions. It’s strange to call songs like this, or the 16 minute long ‘The Culling’, or 14 minute long closer ‘Was Only A Dream’, epics, as we tend to associate that word with warriors standing on the top of hills, and they’re not huge transcendent movements like, say, Neurosis do it, but that’s still exactly what they are. Emotional epics, if you can stomach that description. They are dissonant, ominous, sinister and jarring meanderings through the darkest recesses of the soul, not chaotic but heavy-hearted, not urgent but still immeasurably heavy. Every component is given the time to develop and hit its goal with precision, Gravy and Kiffin go through their impressive guitarwork with remarkable complementarity, nothing is rushed, nothing is unnecessarily drawn out either. Even the samples are poignant, you might even forget the one at the beginning of ‘The Culling’ was already used by Entombed. The magnitude of Rest will change the way you look at Rwake forever, because it makes them step up into the very select category of bands that are above labels. They’re not a “Southern” band anymore, or merely a sludge band, or whatever they used to be called. The various shades of ghostly grey evoked by this album can only be the work of mature individuals, in tune with both their music and their feelings."

You know how it goes by now - that man, that voice, those songs. William's down-to-earth, honest music has been an important companion of mine for years, and while none of his records feel all that similar to each other, there's a coherence, a constant thread and a personality that makes you feel instantly at home whenever there's a new one. I talked a bit more in depth about William and this new album here.

09. TOM WAITS Bad As Me / DAVID LYNCH Crazy Clown Time
To be honest, none of these records were here when I first built up the list. I had only started to listen to 'Bad As Me' and it wasn't connecting so much with me (which felt like a bit of a tragedy, honestly) and I hadn't even lent an ear to 'Crazy Clown Time'. Silly me. After both hit, as I should have predicted they would, I found myself with two very, very important records to cram into the list somehow. Timing helped, but somehow it feels right to group these two men in the same position. They'd be ungroupable with anyone else in the world otherwise, and the connection is precisely that - their unique vision of the world, often outrageous, carnivalesque and just a little bit insane. Also, and appropriately so for this list decision, they both dabble in each other's main art medium - Waits has been in a few films and Lynch has done his bit of songcraft. So, why was the Tom Waits album a slow grower for me? Strangely enough, because it's his most accessible record in years. The oddity of the last few albums has attained such heights that a more sedate (in a Tom Waits context, mind you) collection of songs seemed like a bit thin at first. However, it quickly gained its rightful place in the Waits canon with painfully beautiful Waits-ballads (it's a whole category unto itself) 'Last Leaf' or 'Pay Me' and brawlers like 'Chicago' or the amazing 'Hell Broke Luce', a sort of thematic evil twin of the moving 'Day After Tomorrow'. It's yet another album of sheer brilliance, and as it grows even further I'll probably regret not having it even higher on the list. David Lynch's album, on the other hand, is quite immediate and it even makes a slight bit more sense than his movies, but not that much. Which is exactly what we'd expect. The songs are pretty simple, but the bluesy moods, dance beats and reverb-drenched vocals all combine for a ghostly, kaleidoscopic experience that has its high points on apparent extremes - the simple catchiness of first single 'Good Day Today' and the impenetrable but delicious alienness of the vocoder speech in 'Strange And Unproductive Thinking'. Check out the lyrics to that one, and tune out.

08. MITOCHONDRION Parasignosis / ANTEDILUVIAN Through The Cervix Of Hawwah
You had been warned about Mitochondrion way before the unholy black masses of this underworld were subjected to the swirling maelstrom of nihilist darkness that is 'Parasignosis', so there's no excuse for not being into them and knowing all about this beastfucker of a record. Unless you're a wuss, in which case you won't have much interest in the recent Antediluvian release, also from the land of unruly bestial metal (Canada, if you haven't been following). It's a sort of Mitochondrion buried under soft, rotten soil and left there to fester, however boasting a surprisingly good production. The cavernous, breathless feeling comes from the songwriting itself, without any sort of external witchery, and the Cervix of Hawwah, whatever it is, will feel like a very lonely, very scary place throughout this supremely bleak album.

This band can do no wrong. On their second full-length they're already one of the most exciting and unique voices in extreme music, and 'Mammal' got a justly deserved Album of the Month accolade in Terrorizer magazine when it was released. Fortunately I was the author of that text, so I can use it here as a reminder of why you should not only own, but play this very often.

"This should not come as a surprise. Altar Of Plagues have been nothing short of dazzling since they erupted, fully-formed, onto a scene that was just starting to fully digest Wolves In The Throne Room and thinking of spitting out minor copies. After those two EPs, and especially after ‘White Tomb’, one of 2009’s finest, it became evident this was something else. There have never been easy pigeonholing references for the Cork band, they’ve always stood alone and unpolluted. ‘Mammal’ follows this, and it is instantly enrapturing. From the first two minutes of ‘Neptune Is Dead’, the 18 minute long (!) opener, with its tension-building atmosphere, it functions like a book you can’t stop reading, reduced to teetering on the edge of your seat waiting for the next chapter to unfold. The title itself is one of the best hints to what’s going on. ‘Mammal’, as opposed to most of the urban decay of ‘White Tomb’, is profoundly organic, at times tribal, even. Vocals are surprisingly raw and upfront when growled and shrieked, while distant singing like in the uneasy middle section of ‘Feather And Bone’ gives the song a feeling akin to being dropped in the middle of Neurosis’ ‘Locust Star’ video. Whereas in ‘White Tomb’ it was Graves At Sea’s Nathan Misterek who provided the sudden twist halfway, on ‘Mammal’ the narrative follows a similar path with a different actor, a disquieting chant bookending ‘When The Sun Drowns In The Ocean’ that firmly raises anxiety to dangerous levels. Finally, ‘All Life Converges To Some Center’ emerges as a remarkable conclusion, finishing off the long journey with a shining of desperate hope, the symbiosis of melancholy and fury similar to the feelings provoked by Horseback’s unforgettable ‘The Invisible Mountain’, to remember the last time we were such inspired by a piece of music. What to call this? Throughout these four movements, Altar Of Plagues put any post rock band to shame with the ability to frighteningly accumulate tension through crescendos of varying slopes, they unleash the hellish rage of a horde of corpsepainted forest-dwellers and they hazily bring down upon the listener enough weight to woo an army of bearded, stoned sludgemeisters. Call it just Altar Of Plagues, as that is one of the best guarantees of brilliance there is in extreme music today."

06. LEVIATHAN True Traitor, True Whore
Even to hardened veterans of noise and raw black metal and nasty sludge and whatever other musical deformities all you sickos like me subject yourselves to, 'True Traitor, True Whore' is a difficult album to stomach through in one go. The personal events that unfolded in Jef Whitehead aka Wrest's life prior to this recording have fueled the man with an amount of bile very rarely captured on tape, and this is as much a tortured black metal album as it is a terrifying journey through the darkest recesses of the human mind. The toxic vocal performance alone, a 'Dictius Te Necare'-esque rollercoaster full of frighteningly real growls, spits, roars and howls, would be enough to elevate this record into a special category, but the typically inhuman, hellish vortex of rage that is the Leviathan experience make it a difficult and disturbing classic.

05. AMEBIX Sonic Mass
You see, Morbid Angel? This is how to come back after a long period of inactivity (a much longer one in Amebix's case, on top of it) with a substantially different album and not suck. Much more than not sucking, 'Sonic Mass' is a grandiose work, one that maintains the band's personality, its prophetic, apocalyptic evocations, yet isn't stuck on the crust punk of their 80s records. The ferocity and the downright truth of it are still there, but Amebix 2011 are an expanded entity. As soon as the brooding opener 'Days' casts its lengthening shadow over the listener, as Rob Miller solemnly and very significantly proclaims "these days will never come again", it does feel like a mass, a congregation of watchers of the incoming end of times. The Baron's voice is in fact one of the most fascinating new attractions of the Amebix sound, as his bellicose roar is frequently complemented by an affecting clean tone that brings to mind Jaz Coleman. The whole album, in fact, exhales an industrialized post-punk vibe, but it's perverse to associate Amebix with anyone else, so individual is what they've accomplished here. As writer Adam Stone so wonderfully puts it in his review at The Sleeping Shaman, "Amebix are far more than the sum of the bands they have enjoyed listening to – every fucker has their influences. Amebix are Amebix too." In this day and age, for a band that is returning after 24 years of absence, no praise can be higher than that.

04. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM Celestial Lineage
Talk to anyone who reviews music often and I think everyone will tell you that the hardest records to review are the ones you personally love the most. It's sometimes difficult to strike a balance between fanboy and serious writer, so after 100-something records, some of which I've already talked about in detail over the past months, words are hard to come by. And good lord, have I talked about 'Celestial Lineage'. I've done a cover article with them on issue #34, and I even took one of its songs recently to a national radio show here in Portugal, which will probably delight everyone from the casual listener to the people in charge, who'll be listening to rural-cosmic atmospheric black metal hit the airwaves for 7 minutes or so. Who cares, though. It's amply deserved, and if I was in charge of anything I'd force every kid on the planet to listen to Wolves In The Throne Room's swansong every day at school. To help educate your own kids, here's an excerpt of my gushing review of it that I wrote for Terrorizer magazine:

"(...) even an apparent faux-pas like the dense and opaque ‘Black Cascade’ seems to have been a necessary catharsis to reach the amazing expansion that occurs throughout ‘Celestial Lineage’. That previous record’s impenetrable, remorseless darkness is met here with the more mystical ambiance of yore, including the ghostly ‘Malevolent Grain’ EP, to create a flowing organic whole that appears to have sprung from nature all by itself, seemingly keeping the human intervention of the channelling duo to a minimum. Indeed, a duo - the current line-up has been reduced to the core Weaver brothers, enriched with notable vocal participations by Jessika Kenney, not a stranger in the WITTR universe but used in the forefront like never before, and Aaron Turner who discreetly contributes with orations, both contrasting Nathan’s tortured shrieks. Forsaking their traditional four long songs format for a more delicately balanced structure, with three long pieces (the opener and the two last songs), two amazing shorter songs (the floaty chaos of ‘Rainbow Illness’ and the raw BM fury segueing into stargazing awe of ‘Subterranean Initiation’) and two mood-setting interludes, WITTR’s music breathes like never before, sustained on the fabulous warm and grainy Randall Dunn production job, the final drop on a goblet overflowing with the nectar of sheer perfection."

03. TRAP THEM Darker Handcraft
It took a while, but people have finally caught on to Trap Them. They're the spiritual daddies of the blackened hardcore craze that's sweeping extreme music right now (see positions #37, #47, #52 and #64 of this very same list, take a stroll around bandcamp or just visit Southern Lord's website for proof), but no one has managed to come close to the crushing power that each and every Trap Them song brings. Fueled by one of the most intense frontmen ever, Ryan McKinney (also a brilliant lyricist who has created an entire universe of characters for Trap Them's albums), and one of the very best riff-masters ever, Brian Izzi, the impact of this band is similar to that of Converge or even Neurosis, in that they have their very own unmistakable mindspace, with a far-reaching and constantly present concept, and they move according to their own will, their own art, their own urges. You might have noticed a trend in my list, and one that is more evident as the highest places roll in - with a few notable exceptions, it's difficult to come up with a neat category for a lot of these bands. There's nothing wrong with the well-worn path. I adore a lot of bands who are shining examples of that. But it's endlessly exciting to follow the development of music that we will look back upon like the beginning of something new.  And that's what happens with Trap Them. There's as much Japanese hardcore as there is Swedish death metal in 'Darker Handcraft', but the overall gist of it is pure Trap Them, no categories. Again, as I said on Amebix's text just above, there is no higher praise. Here's a band of the week post I did on them before they played Roadburn. They did, and there was a moshpit. A fucking moshpit. At Roadburn. Think about it.

02. TOMBS Path Of Totality
We do take some pride in the having been there, us metal folk, don't we? Maybe I have a bit of tunnel vision, but I do take my musical strolls outside all this extremity very often, and I seldomly encounter anyone boasting that they were at a particular basement gig in 1989, or that they have a tape with the first hissy recordings of a particular artist. In our case, however, that almost a status mark. And that's kinda cool, if you're not an asshole about it. It shows dedication to the life and work of an artist. Anyway, this is because I like to lay claim to something of the sort when it comes to Tombs. Not that many people were into Anodyne throughout the 90s, Mike Hill's noise-hardcore band in the Boston scene, and I never really understood why, as it seemed to me they had everything. Monster grooves, blinding intensity, hard work ethic, the lot. So I was terribly excited when I got the first self-titled Tombs EP and I listened to it to death. I remember looking them up on, and I was the only listener. So I took upon myself a mission of sorts, to help everyone realize how absolutely amazing this band is. Fortunately, Mike and the boys have helped plenty. 'Winter Hours', the first full-length, and the split with Planks (and also the compilation of all the non-album material, 'Fear Is The Weapon' that has some very tasty raw versions of some of the best songs), have always shown a band growing, rising, maturing. The black metal/sludge/psychedelic/stoner/post metal cauldron of sound gets more and more expansive from release to release, and 'Path Of Totality' is yet another huge leap. The grey cover is an apt colour-coding hint of what's inside, as Mike's greatly enriched vocal styles now include a monochrome clean vocal chant that he uses on a couple of songs like 'Passageways' or 'Silent World'to astonishingly sombre effect. There's real thought behind every minute of this album - look up what the path of totality is (and ignore any reference to Korn who have stolen this title for their dumb and irrelevant record) and you'll see how the all-consuming grey whirlwind of these songs fits it perfectly. What's more,  they are able to capture this almost intangible greatness on stage too, where they sound like an army of 30 instead of a mere trio. Here's my Terrorizer review of it, from June this year, where it was already obvious this would be very high up on my list:

"Captivating and utterly essential from the word go with the remarkable self-titled debut EP, a status further reinforced by subsequent full-length ‘Winter Hours’ ‘Path Of Totality’ sees Tombs drift further out into a special and entirely uninhabited musical land. Traces of black metal, sludge, doom, noise rock and post-everything are all engulfed in the darkened maelstrom of devastating songs like opener ‘Black Hole Of Summer’ or the slow-burning hell that is the subtly melodic ‘Passageways’. Featuring stellar performances not only from Mike but also the rest of the solid three-piece, as bassist Carson James and drummer Andrew Hernandez provide an all-consuming monster of a rhythm section, ‘Path Of Totality’ will be among the very best albums of 2011. Don’t miss it."

Stay tuned for the album of the year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 3/4)

50. CROOKED FINGERS Breaks In The Armor / CROOKED NECKS Alright Is Exactly What It Isn't
See what I did there? I even had half a mind to throw in a demo from some rancid black metal band I heard the other day called Crooked Cross, but that would be just overkill. Besides, that one's not very good, and these two albums, even if they have nothing at all to do with each other musically, are both wonderful. Eric Bachmann returns to the simpler and more affecting bitter melodies of his singer/songwriter-like approach of past Crooked Fingers after a megalomaniac super-orchestrated 2008 album called 'Forfeit / Fortune' that didn't make any sense, while Crooked Necks are yet another unique offer from R.Loren's Handmade Birds label. An outrgeously beautiful but quietly threatening twisted dream of shoegazing ambiance, it's deeply enveloping and truly original.

49. CROWBAR Sever The Wicked Hand
Crowbar are one of my favourite bands ever, and this album was initially higher up on my list, but with hindsight it's noticeable that some of these songs don't hold up as solidly as some of their best records did in their entirety. Plus, there's some talk of god in there and it's not about impaling him on a rusty spike, which is always irksome. Still, it's great to have them back, and the massively crushing emotional weight of songs like 'Liquid Sky And Cold Black Earth' or 'The Cemetery Angels' cannot be argued with. Okay Crowbar is still miles ahead of most bands on their prime.

48. WOLVHAMMER The Obsidian Plains
They keep getting darker and dirtier. And I keep enjoying them more and more. Read the band of the week post to find out why.

47. UNKIND Harhakuvat
Angry, blackened hardcore, sounds familiar from this list? Yeah, I'd say expect these people to get picked up by Southern Lord soon if they weren't already on Relapse. Deservedly so, as this bunch of Finns stand up way above the (high) current standard for this kind of thing. Sombre, crusty and with a sharp metallic edge, it does the band name total justice.

46. WILL HAVEN Voir Dire
Well, this is Will Haven's second-best album ever, a very close second to 'El Diablo'. That says it all, doesn't it? If not, procure a copy of said beast at the earliest opportunity and then spin this piece of roaring, about-to-break-apart savagery right after. And then go have a lie down, you'll need it.

I discovered Ashcan Orchid on a random download because I'm a sucker for gothic americana weirdness like Jay Munly and its ilk, and they totally wrapped themselves around my heart. 'The Woods' is probably one of my most played records of the last six months. And you know what? Sometimes other people have already said exactly what you want to. The blurb from CDBaby (no author mentioned, apologies for the lack of credit) where I purchased the record really describes it with precise perfection:
"Part American Cabaret, part Gothicana, Ashcan Orchid weaves ambient tapestries of melody and folklore. At times melancholic, other times manic, always lush and deeply textured portraits of murder, longing, and l’amour. The Sextet deftly sweeps you from debaucherous reverie to fiendish nightmares, from lycanthropic love songs to the edge of madness. The vocals frolic and swoon while the banjo gently plucks along like a Louisiana swamp boat. Saxophones moan out a sympathetic funeral dirge while the saw weeps mournfully. Accordions and Guitars flicker and spark like a gypsy campfire in time with an iconoclast rhythm. Cantillating scandalous hymns of carnage and lament; brutal, honest and timelessly out of time come the sordid tales of Ashcan Orchid."

44. LENTO Icon / OMEGA MASSIF Karpatia
Fuck vocals! Both Lento and Omega Massif are able to turn your bones into dust without anyone opening their whiny mouths, through short doomy blasts of enormously incisive riffs in the case of Lento and by means of tectonic plates moving all over you in the case of Omega Massif, either work fine. Two of the best instrumental metal albums ever.

43. KRALLICE Diotima
Sweeping, swooping, sometimes soothing, sometimes disturbing, it's all there with Krallice. The best of their three albums so far, 'Diotima' is refreshingly free of pretense and overblown philosophy pseudo-intellectualisms (yes, Liturgy, this is for you). It just oscillates, vibrates and slashes through foggy atmospheres and devilishly perverse vocalizations (both Nick McMaster's death roar and Mick Barr's shriek are able to tear down angels from the sky with their power and viciousness), affirming Krallice as one of the very best of this sort of long-winding, forward-thinking atmospheric black metal bands.

42. GRAVEYARD Hisingen Blues
Before this record, many probably still saw Graveyard under the mighty commercial shadow of the über-fake Witchcraft, because of the members' shared past, but 'Hisingen Blues' sets everything straight. It's the record where Graveyard set out decisively on their own path, a path full of bluesy hard rockin' anthems, memorable, groovy and hard-hitting. If you're not air-guitaring and singing the chorus to 'Uncomfortably Numb' at the top of your voice after three listens, go and try out for a zombie role on The Walking Dead, because that's what you probably are. 

41. DEFEATER Empty Days & Sleepless Nights / TOUCHÉ AMORÉ Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me
Another touching story of human tragedy and woe told through the unique narrative voice of Defeater, furiously emotional hardcore amplified by Derek Archambault's gut-wrenchingly honest vocals. The Sleepless Nights bit of the album is actually a series of acoustic songs that recount the last chapters of this story of a broken man, in the vein of interludes and a few live bits Derek usually does, and they're amazingly well done. Touché Amoré's record isn't as good as Defeater's, it's even a bit unfair to have them this high up on the list, but it's still a good one and it sounds exactly like Defeater, right down to the vocals, so if you like one you'll lap up the other for sure.

40. A STORM OF LIGHT As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade / Latitudes / MORNE Asylum
Because of the people involved, that I profoundly admire, I've very nearly forced myself to like A Storm Of Light since their first album came out. It's not like the two that have been released so far are bad albums, not at all, so it hasn't been a huge struggle, but I've always felt that something hadn't quite clicked yet. On 'As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade', it finally did. It's the first time I've really been impressed with an A Storm Of Light release right from the beginning, and the first time that they've sounded totally comfortable with what they're doing. Eschewing tedious post-rock meanderings and recognizing precisely where Josh Graham's vocals should and shouldn't go are the biggest reasons as to why this album sounds lean, tight and very captivating, a sort of barebones A Storm Of Light when compared to the previous two albums that allows them to do so much more with the songs. Latitudes is just an EP, but it's worthy of mention beceause it's a sort of halfway step between the two phases, a separate but very meaningful step in a band that just might turn into something more important than it seemed at first. When you get right down to it, it's the angst that nails it, the palpable feeling of both morose and aggressive depression that 'As The Valley...' exhales. It's exactly what Morne's album transpires, and that's why I felt it fit perfectly next to it. Crustier, cruder sludge as it is, it nevertheless also owes a huge debt to Neurosis and it inhabits a similar mindplace than A Storm Of Light does, so you should throw yourself into the restless waters of both of them with the abandon of the condemned.

39. LONESUMMER There Are Few Tomorrows For Feeding Our Worries
Some bands just try to piece together apparently random styles in the hope that it'll somehow click and they'll be hailed for coming up with something "new". It's like trying baked beans with hot chocolate sauce because, hey, no one does it, so it must be great! You can spot them a mile away. And then, there is the natural evolution of a sound that calls for something else, and when you realize, you're stepping into something that's rather different from the norm. If you've heard Lonesummer before, you might remember a difficult to bear wall of harsh black metal noise, but the one-man project has grown and flourished into something otherworldly beautiful. The raw, punishing element is still there, as well as the clanking, brutal abuse of instrumentation, but now it's fused (note the term. Fused. It's exactly like that) with a very shoegaze-pop  desperation, as if 'Under A Funeral Moon' was a collaboration album with Blasphemy and The Jesus And Mary Chain about suicidal heartbreak, and the result is frankly staggering. This has been released recently, and I must admit I've had trouble listening to anything else in the past couple of weeks. It's a wonder my family hasn't put me under suicide watch.

38. END OF LEVEL BOSS Eklectric
It's definitely been the year of bands coming into their own, and End Of Level Boss' third album is yet another shining example of that. Amazingly original, dissonant heavy music that defies categorization while still worshipping at the altar of Voivod. I can't wait for their Roadburn show, and I was already this excited back when I made them band of the week.

37. HOT GRAVES Knights In White Phosphorus
This position is irrelevant. Any band with a song called 'Worship The Goat', with the lyrics "NO TIME FOR REBUTTAL / THERE'S NO TIME TO WASTE / COME TAKE THIS CHALICE / THIS BLOOD YOU MUST TASTE / WORSHIP THE GOAT!", deserves any place in any list. It's their choice, they've earned it. Especially if the song in question is a trailblazing mix of crust and old thrash, all rolled into one zombified carcass of rot, and especially if the album offers 14 more in the exact same vein. Fuck yeah.

36. BARN OWL Lost In The Glare / Shadowland / EVAN CAMINITI When California Falls Into The Sea / JON PORRAS Undercurrent
Barn Owl are one of the very few drone/ambient artists who still understand that it's important for your releases to have time to mean something both to the band itself and the people who will hear it. Even if you can be consistently flabbergasting in everything you put out, after that 93rd split 7" this month it all starts to be a bit of a blur. So, by that standard, this was a pretty productive year for the Californian duo - one EP, 'Shadowland', synthesizer-rich and sounding like everything was put through huge stacks of tube amps (because it was), one full length album, 'Lost In The Glare', a deeply engaging sweep of both luminous radiance and quietly brooding darkness, and a solo album for each of them, a ghostlier, murkier one for Jon and a hypnotic guitar ode to Arizona Bay. Just play them all in succession and let yourself drift off this tedious mundane existence.

35. BRUTAL TRUTH End Time / ROTTEN SOUND Cursed / WORMROT Dirge / MARUTA Forward Into Regression
It's simple, if you have any interest at all in grindcore, you need all of these. Several generations at play here - first of all, there's the legendary Brutal Truth with a drastically heavy affair that frequently harks back to 'Need To Control' (dude, that first song) and some other of their prime moments. Then, surely legends in the making, Finns Rotten Sound stay steady on the path they've been carving, one of astounding power and an increasingly unique sound. They'll be mentioned in the same breath as the genre greats in ten years, if they aren't already, and the blinding display of barely restrained violence of 'Cursed' will be one of the major stepping stones for immortality. Maruta have tragically split up last month, so 'Forward Into Regression' will stand as the epitaph for a band that should have gone beyond just two albums. Seeing them live this year was a revelation, and they seemed well on their way to become one of the prime grinders of the world. Just like their touring partners on that occasion, Wormrot, who keep laying waste to everything in their path with gritty, unstoppable old-school grind. I talked about them a bit on TLD when the record came out.

34. DREDG Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy
My love affair with Dredg continues, even if they make a record barely without any guitars. It's in fact a testament to the songwriting power of these guys that no matter what their instrumental approach is, even if it's with a Dan The Automator production, lots of synths and sleepy chillout moods instead of the energy of stuff like 'El Cielo' for instance, it always sounds exactly and unmistakably like Dredg. And Gavin's voice is still the stuff of dreams, even on a syrupy yet bitter ballad like 'Where I'll End Up'. Hell, especially on those.

Oh, Hawks And Doves? It's a band with Gared O'Donnell of Planes Mistaken For Stars on vocals and guitar. What, do you need more? Because if you do, you seriously need to lock yourself somewhere with the Planes Mistaken For Stars discography for a week to understand. Anyway, this was actually a little surprising, not so much in the more bare singer/songwriter style as the 2009 7" hinted at, but more a full band, with hints of Planes and americana, as well as a more barroom sort of groove that suits Gared's gravely voice perfectly. So good to have that voice back.

32. DEAFHEAVEN Roads To Judah
I told you, didn't I? 'Roads To Judah' is everything that demo hinted at, and more. Haunting but strangely uplifting, ferocious but surprisingly beautiful, it's a delicate balance of feelings and moods that can only be crudely called black metal because there's really not anything else to describe them as. It's shoegaze, it's progressive, but it stays glued to your brain and your heart so much more than 99% other bands that combine all those elements. "Euphoric melacholia" and "beautiful sadness" were two of the attempts I made at describing them in that analysis of the demo, and this record amplifies them both with heart-stopping results.

31. NEGATIVE PLANE Stained Glass Revelations
Murky, creeping Lovecraftian darkness, early Celtic Frost savagery and a truly frightening intensity all combine for one of the most difficult but also rewarding black metal albums of late. 'Angels Of Veiled Bone' sounds like it was recorded by three animated corpses, hidden in a Satanic underground abode built right beneath the abandoned church. It's fucking grim.

Ash Borer was band of the week when this album came out and the same happened to Circle Of Ouroborus, and as you can see from what I wrote there, they weren't easy nuts to crack. Buried within these albums is some of the most opaque and headfucking extreme music you will ever hear, so only the insane apply here. I'm sure you'll all enjoy the ride as much as I did. Servile Sect share a record label with Circle Of Ouroborus, and they're similarly out-there-somewhere. In space, to be more precise, where no one can hear you scream but where the blackened, piercing environments of 'Trvth' are perfectly audible, thank you very much.

29. BLUT AUS NORD 777 - Sect(s) / 777 - The Desanctification
This pair of albums, the two first parts of a trilogy, contains some of the best material the revolutionary Blut Aus Nord have ever released, and that's saying something.  Much more concrete than their recent, more abstract works, they combine an otherworldly distance and menace with passages of true blinding intensity. More clearly black metal on 'Sect(s)', dissonant and showing traces of Ministry or Godflesh industrial darkness on 'The Desanctification', this is a two-part void that will consume you if you give it half a chance. Harold Camping will probably come out of retirement to announce another end of the world when the final part of the trilogy comes out in 2012.

28. INDIAN Guiltless
Grrrroaaaaaaarghhhhhh. Indian are unpleasant, noisy and rude. Drugs, misery, filth, mud and suffering pour from them like old blood from an ever-opening sore, and they'll hate every second of the enjoyment you might get from such a confrontational piece of music. It's one of those that you can't explain why you like it to a normal person without them thinking you're one fucked up weirdo. Which you probably are. Aren't we all.

27. DISMA Towards The Megalith
Just go on the members tab and look at the pedigree of these people! How could their first album not sound like it was bellowed forth by fucking Cthulhu himself? It was, and it was his favourite messenger, Incantation, who carried it up to the surface. Proper death metal is back, and it's hungry for revenge. Cower.

26. YOB Atma
YOB represent everything that is good about underground music. Polite and intelligent people writing gigantic doom songs, rich in sludginess and psychedelia, albums that are never alike, shows that seem to shake the foundations of the planet, Scott Kelly as guest vocalist, you name it, YOB have it. 'Atma' is unique, as they all are, and it's roughly somewhere between the more monochrome viciousness of 'The Great Cessation' and the band's more exploratory work like 'Elaborations Of Carbon'. In short, it's awesome and everyone should own it. Simple as that.