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."

10. WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE Field Songs
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.

07. ALTAR OF PLAGUES Mammal
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 last.fm, 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.

3 comments:

  1. You are teasing us! Oh wait I know anyway! ;)
    It's funny some people have been complaining about the Antidiluvian production. I can't see it at all! I've only just heard the new Caina today and it's floored me! Still yet to hear The Book Of Knots….

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pretty sure it's gonna be the new Dream Theater.

    Hah.

    ReplyDelete
  3. haha. God I saw Dream Theater at High Voltage. I almost slit my throat there and then, fucking awful!

    ReplyDelete