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.

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