Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 6 - #34 to #24)

34. BONG We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been
If you'd change that last bit of the album title to "We Will Always Be", you'd have the whole point of Bong's existence nicely summarised. Ever since their first hum, a decade ago, they've acquired a sort of constant and infinite quality to them quite unlike any other contemporary artist (which they aren't, specifically, because they're infinite, right? My head hurts.) I can remember. Yes, everyone will have their favourites along the way (mine is 2012's 'Mana-Yood-Sushai'), and they're not all exactly alike, but every "unregulated experiment on tonal prolonging, solemn in its delivery and frightening in its implications," as the press release so wonderfully put it at the time, just fits the continuum and adds an extra chunk of infinity to it. Which I know is a silly thing to say, but shut up, it's my blog and I'll state mathematical nonsense if I want to. This time enlightenment comes in the form of two vast movements, each almost 20-minute long movements, which in the right conditions will turn your living room into the top of an impossibly tall mountain. Which will then rise slowly and fall down on you.

33. ALDA Passage
People from Washington State gathered around a fire in the photos, gathering inspiration from the staggering beauty of the Cascade region to fuel their atmospheric, sweeping kind of black metal. No, silly, Alda are from Tacoma and not Olympia like the other ones you were thinking! In all fairness, there's more to set Alda apart from Wolves In The Throne Room than their town of origin, as 'Passage' features a fantastic use of acoustic guitars and clean vocal harmonies that are deeply entwined in the furious, exceptionally enraged black metal that envelops them. But still, it's undeniable that the overal feeling is one of WITTR-ness, and that's not at all a band thing. On the contrary, of the many, many, many bands that exist based on that template today, Alda are by far one of the very best, to the point of having developed their own recognisable personality on top of it and delivering awesome records like 2011's ':Tahoma:' and this beauty here.

32. FALSE Untitled
      OBSEQUIAE Aria Of Vernal Tombs
What the hell, Minneapolis? Is it the cold, or something in the water supply, or what? Two of the year's most exciting black metal releases come from within your frequently chilly walls, so hey, we salute you and raise our rum-spiked hot chocolate mugs to you, or whatever. They're very different from each other, too. False are anything but their name - a blistering, hateful slab of disease and corruption and no sugar and no spice and nothing nice. There's a fucking vulture on the cover, alright? It probably wasn't even there on the original illustration, it was attracted by the putrid sickness that comes out of those twisted riffs that seem to accelerate or slow down of their own volition. Obsequiae are in many ways the opposite of this, only touching False in the way they twist black metal into something quite different, and quite theirs too. The fact that it features Tanner Anderson, whose other band Celestiial has made it into my lists before (here, #59) should tell you something about the piles of classy atmosphere this album is drenched with. In fact, Obsequiae themselves featured in one of my previous lists (here, #74), with 'Suspended In The Brume Of Eos' from 2011, and while I was fascinated enough to say things like "(...) a star-gazing elegance with which they evoke the wonder and magic of the Middle Ages, fusing it with sizeable amounts of intelligent, mid-paced black metal maelstrom, making for a most fascinating first record," the leap in quality to this second effort is staggering. It is possible to make music that is based on Medieval times, which is beautiful for the most part (they have a Medieval harp player now, it's not exactly raw grim kvlt whatever), but which can be serious and often stern and harsh, and does not need to evoke prancing minstrels or drunken parties with the innkeepers and their wenches.

31. CATTLE DECAPITATION The Anthropocene Extinction
Whoa. After twenty years and seven albums, you'd kinda forgive Cattle Decapitation if they did just-one-more, you know? It's death/grind, you're not supposed to keep going at it like the future of the ecosystem depends on how awesome your new album is. Misery Index, for instance, are great, but their latest stuff hasn't exactly called for the jaw-sweeping expert teams, and that's okay. But just when you're prepared to cut these guys some slack, they hit back with what is probably their best album ever, so you can stick your condescendence where the cows go to, erm, kill you. Maintaining the power of their concept and imagery, arguing a point with which it's hard to disagree (go investigate, or read a book or something), it's easy to see why this record seems to have touched people even more than is usual for this band.

30. BROTHERS OF THE SONIC CLOTH Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth
Dude, it's Tad Doyle! And if you're not sharing the excitement, I'll only forgive you if you were born after, like, 1995 or whatever year it is you young kids are born these days. For the rest of us old and fat losers, TAD was the most precious hidden gem in grunge - while all the other kids were losing their shit to Nirvana or Soundgarden (of whom I am a great fan as well, no stupid dick contests here, but hear me out), us more metal-oriented snobs would first throw Alice In Chains at them, to give them a reference they'd know, and then the game-changer, TAD. So go discover if you don't know them. Anyway, Tad Doyle then formed Hog Molly after TAD split up, and Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth is his sort of new band - it's been around for a while, it started as a solo project, and this is his first album. And man, is it heavy. Not just heavy as in, "sir, that is one riff distinctly lacking in lightness"-heavy, it's heavy as in "URGH"-heavy, okay? It's old Crowbar kind of heavy, where you can still sing bits and remember riffs but your neck hurts all the same. It's on Neurot Recordings, Steve Von Till has said that the music moves "at the speed of a glacier", and I said myself on my Rock-a-Rolla review that after a certain point, "the heaviness becomes so much and so constant that you cave in, and the whole thing becomes eerily soothing." Yeah, it's that heavy.

You might notice the absence in my list of a certain band who mix black metal with shoegaze and other varied influences - not because I have anything against them, rather the opposite, but because their new album didn't really capture me all that much (it's Deafheaven I'm talking about, in case some of you at the back are still lost). However, they've reached a certain kind of fever pitch where the devotion is even bigger than the stupid, irrational hatred they inspire, so they're universally hailed and that's cool. Shame is, no one really pays attention to a much more consistent (and also prolific) band that has been releasing great album after great album since 2010. Holland's An Autumn For Crippled Children's output has been varied, to the point of no two albums being really alike, and the varying degrees of melancholy, sadness, beauty and indeed fury have always been expertly balanced throughout their career. 'The Long Goodbye' is one of their best yet, offering a rather urban depression kind of vibe while managing quiet contemplation and desperate anguish in some of the vocal deliveries. To top it all off, they released a wonderful two-song free EP a few months later called 'portugal'. It's like they're after my own heart.

28. CAÏNA Setter Of Unseen Snares
I got all touchy-feely when Caïna announced in 2011 that 'Hands That Pluck' would be their final album, and fortunately Andrew Curtis-Brignell did return to us a couple of years later, and he brought friends along too, making this incarnation of the band notably different than the first with the company of vocalist Laurence Taylor (who is fucking scarily intense as the live performance at Temples Festival clearly showed) and bassist Fraser Samson (who replaced Dom Moss), plus a couple of live musicians. This makes a lot of sense, because despite having been a solo project for that first part of their existence, each successive record fluctuating along with Andy's mood and creativity, Caïna never felt disjointed, or aimless. Creatively restless, for sure, but the personality was always there, and it always felt like a "proper band" at work, if that makes any kind of sense. Anyhoo, it doesn't have to. Everything you need for the world to make sense is to play 'Setter Of Unseen Snares', which I'll stop short of calling Caïna's best album ever because the others still mean a hell of a lot to me, and realise how massive a beast it is. Initially feeling like a punked-up, rawer version of the Caïna we know and love, the more obviously black metal release of the bunch, let's call it that, it soon opens up the whole range of atmospheric delights it offers, yet without losing that abrasive, immediate edge to it. It's the way it manages to be equally deep and instantly gratifying that really nails this as one of the best albums of the year. Also, I've heard a little sneak peek of things to come, and... beware. That's all I got to say for now.

27. THE BODY & KRIEG The Body & Krieg
There was no way in hell this could have gone any less brilliant than it is. Krieg is one of the, if not the, best USBM acts at the moment, and The Body are The Body, that bizarrely unique entity that punishes you with unholy shrieking, church chanting and the heaviest sludge ever, every time they decide to record something. Who woulda thunk it, The Body's terrifying noise lends itself well to mutations through collaborative effort, and after the fearsome oddities that were the collaborations with Thou (two of them), Vampillia and Braveyoung, not to mention a few splits too, 'The Body & Krieg' is the summit of their buddy link-up work so far. The records with Thou were awesome enough already, yes, but Krieg are much more different from the Portland duo and the way the contrasts are balanced makes for a fascinating final whole. In fact, while I've been focusing more on The Body, these songs are clearly Krieg songs at heart, but then put through the The Body mangler. Neill Jameson's typically tortured black metal becomes even more tortured and emotionally raw, when slowed down to a doom-noise pace, or when cast into the middle of a twisted procession. Like telling a prisoner fresh out of the torture room that torture room two is up next.

26. ENSLAVED In Times
When mentioning the great Norwegian avant-garde revival of 2015, one must not forget to inclued Enslaved in that mix. It was a tough record to get to grips with at first, admittedly, and I actually still feel that I haven't gotten to grips with it, not entirely, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When I reviewed it for Terrorizer, where it was album of the month, I compared it to its amazing predecessor 'RIITIIR' and how that seemed to encapsulate all that is great about Enslaved: "Well, 'In Times' pulls it all apart again. Take opener 'Thurisaz Dreaming', where a surprisingly nasty black metal beginning suddenly erupts into a gloriously epic Herbrand-sung part which totally sounds like a different song, or the way a lot of the album seems restrained and held back because of the constant crescendos starting off the gentle, beautiful even, acoustic sections… in a normal world, these would all be criticisms, and we'd be moaning about a record that still feels alien and slippery, despite the absolutely infectious catchiness of most of it, after many listens, but here? In Enslaved-land, they're the very reasons we keep returning to it." In the end, I came up with the only logical explanation for this. "We're sure Ivar, Grutle, Herbrand, Arve and Cato found a wormhole somewhere on a fjord that allowed them to advance a few decades into the future and bring back a few popular tunes from 2145." Well, naturally.

25. AUTOPSY Skull Grinder
      WINDS OF GENOCIDE Usurping The Throne Of Disease
Let me tell you a little something about Autopsy - 'Skull Grinder' was one of the last 2015 albums I listened to, and when I was putting together this list, I thought to myself, better leave a spot in the top 30, at least, for Autopsy. I don't care how biased that sounds, but it's just meant to show you that my faith in these guys is unbreakable, and I have reasons for that. First of all, there is the matter of The Best Death Metal Album Ever (and also, The Most Unrecognised As Massively Influential In Every Extreme Band Since), obviously 'Mental Funeral', of which you should own several copies of and play them whenever mental sanity allows you to, but without letting it overshadow the remainder of their career which has been outstanding to say the least. Especially after their return from inactivity, a move that, as we all know, doesn't always go well for many bands, Autopsy have been unusually prolific, and adding quality to that quantity too. 'Macabre Eternal', 'The Headless Ritual' and 'Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves'' have all slipped their very best songs (which are many!) into my all-time Autopsy playilst, and 'Skull Grinder' promises to do the same, chock full as it is of, gasp!, more melody than usual in among the sloppy sickness. Theoretically it's an EP, but I interviewed Chris Reifert a few months ago and he told me that "it's technically called a mini-LP, it's seven songs in 28 minutes, but you can call it what you want. 'Reign In Blood' is one of the best albums ever and it's 28 minutes long, so...", so there. I'm calling it an album, and one of the best of the year too. And because I can fuck around with my list as much as I want to, I'm tacking Winds Of Genocide to it as well - the full-length (it's 32 minutes long, ha!) debut by these Durham bastards has been a long time coming, but it finally hit us in 2015 and it's everything we could have expected it to be. It's glued to Autopsy on my list not because it's particularly alike, as Winds Of Genocide are much crustier and punkier, but because the spiritual connection is for me very clear. There is a certain dirtiness, a certain death metal grime captured by the whole d-beating thing that really harks back to the horrid, doomy death metal of early Autopsy. It's the same kind of feeling, in a different wrapping, at least in my head, but I've listened to a lot of Autopsy over the years, so I don't know. Anyway, they're not really usurping the throne of disease, but they're telling Chris and the boys to scoot over because there's room for a few more in 2015. Also, frontwoman Kat Shevil is also in the much more Autopsied mob Uncoffined (drums/vocals, just like a certain Mr. Reifert), whom you should check out right now and get up to speed before their second album lands in 2016. Should be a monster.

24. LEONARD COHEN Can't Forget - A Souvenir Of The Great Tour
In the midst of all this noise and experimentation and weirdness and ugly metal, let me tell you this - if I have to pick one single artist that means the most to me, that has helped shape me and the way I think, and write, and feel, it is undoubtedly Leonard Cohen. I love Leonard Cohen, and this "love" is a bit deeper than what is usually meant when talking about music. By far my favourite songwriter ever, for the subtle, slow way he lets his compositions breathe, like a fine wine that took its time aging until it reached the perfect state, the way the simplicity in both word and song always hides (in plain sight!) a deep, pondered wisdom... I can be here for a long time enumerating the reasons why, but suffice to say that, at 81 years of age, Leonard is still one of the best performers around too. Seeing him live a couple of years ago was one of the pinnacles of my entire existence so far, and this sort-of-live album truly captures the many reasons why it was so. His soundchecks have long been the stuff of legend, apparently whole different concerts in their own right, and with these nine songs we get a remarkable glimpse of that. Mostly recorded during the soundchecks themselves, from alternative versions of widely known songs, to heart-stopping renditions of tunes we rarely get to hear on stage from the great man, and even two brand new songs, 'Can't Forget', beside a great snapshot of what might have been the last world tour from one of the world's most notable musicians, is Cohen in between the two states we've mostly heard him in - looser and less intimate than in the studio, but still with a certain wink-wink exclusive vibe to it that you don't get when listening to a song with 10.000 other people beside you. All in all, truly unique, as Leonard has always been. May he continue to remind us of that for many years.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 5 - #44 to #35)

Aren't you tired of awesome music already? Oh, you're not? That's cool, so here's a pile of more great records from 2015.

44. VVOVNDS Descending Flesh
If you still don't know why you need to discover VVOVNDS, I'll just leave you with a bit of their bio, which was written by some dude. Me. It was written by me. "Like their name, they leave things simple, their boots firmly planted in the roots of the hardcore punk genre, but at the same time it's impossible to find an easy reference point, the traditional sounds-just-like-x, because for them x doesn't mark just one spot spot. They have a lot of xs, scratched in blood throughout the walls of genres like powerviolence, sludge and who knows what else, vague etchings of Converge or Lightning Bolt on those walls, whispers along them of the noisy bits of Some Girls or Cult Ritual, all of them previously run over by Drunkdriver. As long as it's covered in bile, blood and tears, it's an apt description for his."

43. VISION OF DISORDER Razed To The Ground
When I interviewed vocalist Tim Williams for Terrorizer, I mentioned in the feature that "the vicious opening pair alone of 'Heart Of Darkness' and 'Hours In Chaos' sound like a pack of rabid wolves chasing after your throat," which is really the best way to put it. Some comebacks really are worth it, and when the legendary band in question release a follow up to the comeback album that is even better, you know they're the real deal. Such is the case with Vision Of Disorder, and risking some kind of blasphemy, I'd venture to say that in the long run this might just be their best album ever.
42. VENOM From The Depths Of Hell
That's right, Venom! Not Venom Inc, or any other bunch of desperates leeching off someone else's band name and songs they helped write 30 years ago. Nope, Venom, for real. A couple of short facts - a) most Venom albums without the classic line-up are indeed average at best; b) most people who state fact a) forget about 'Cast In Stone', recorded with the reunited classic line-up, which historical importance aside is by far the best Venom album ever, and c) which is the fact that really matters - 'From The Depths' is by far and away Venom's best record that does not feature Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon trying to be in the same room without killing each other. The current chemistry in this line-up is noticeable in the live shows, which finally kick ass, and 'From The Very Depths' is chock full of blinders which would become Venom classics ('Long Haired Punks', 'The Death Of Rock N Roll') if only people paid proper attention. So come on. Throw yourself at it without fear. It's proper Venom.

Another record from the great William, of whom I have spoken at length enough times for this to need no explanation. Still, some things are to be said about 'Radium Death': William does experiment a bit with the electric guitar this time, and you can tell it's an experiment because the results are mixed sometimes. But when he's locked into that typical groove of his, exhuberant yet down to earth, a mix of being strong and lamenting misfortunes (like on the fabulous 'Trouble In Your Heart'), Will is untouchable. Now, if I can only catch him on stage at long last!

40. LEVIATHAN Scar Sighted
Album of the year for some of my most esteemed colleagues, but Leviathan's new beast took a while with the house training for me. I flat out didn't like it at first, all that death metal and even doom creeping in, or "a lot of skewed, chopped up Massive Conspiracy-like moments throughout, there are also clear Lurker Of Chalice-isms, cavernous death metal (on the opening proper song, no less) and an excursion into horrid doom with the intimidating title-track," as I called it on my Rock-a-Rolla review. But as it settled, its rewards are immense, as most difficult albums tend to be. On that same review, I had already caved in to the album's brilliance and concluded that "the flow of the songs is remarkably smooth, and they all maintain a belligerent spikiness to them, hateful and malignant, but this time very much in control, even allowing itself a melodic moment or two to breathe, like the ending of Gardens Of Coprolite."

39. C R O W N Natron
      ZATOKREV Silk Spiders Underwater
Because apparently the massive sludgy weight of their 2013 debut 'Psychurgy' wasn't quite enough, French duo C R O W N decided to turn into a trio, adding Swiss guitarist/vocalist Frederyk Rotter to the line-up for good after a period when he just played live with them. Whether he served as catalyst to this burst of energy or not (we suspect he helped more than a bit), it elevated 'Nation' into a different animal than its two-year-old daddy. More Godflesh-like industrial in its overall mood, or rather, Jesu-like, since the whole thing is drenched into shoegazy, atmospheric atmosphere, without ever losing that edge, that bite that so characterised the band's debut and their typical live performances. How they manage to reference both David Bowie and the Swans within the same songs is beyond me, but it does make sense if you think about it. But don't think about it. Enjoy it. And then, check out Frederyk's other band Zatokrev, who have been amazing for years without much due recognition. On 'Silk Spiders Underwater', they were also bitten by the atmophere bug, and in a good way. I gave the thing an 8 on Terrorizer and spoke of it thusly: "Though featuring clearly their best material yet, it takes its time to slowly unfurl, especially with the increased depth provided by much-welcome atmospheric sections. That way, the obliterating vitality of the riffage, the hateful nature of the ponderous drumming and the throat-scraping, howling vocals have even more impact when they hit."

38. SATAN'S WRATH Die Evil
      MIRROR Mirror
      DIAVOLOS You Lived Now Die
So you think you're a big boy because you've done a record in 2015. Whoop dee fucking do. And you, sniggering at the back, have you done two? Well, that's cute. Have a cookie. Tas Danazoglou has gone and done three, and furthermore, they all slay. It all started with 'Die Evil', Satan's Wrath third book of praise to the horned one, and even if you don't know them, if you have trouble figuring out what a band called Satan's Wrath with song titles like 'Raised On Sabbaths', 'Coffinlust' or 'Castle Of Torment' sound like, you're reading the wrong blog. It's fucking rough, charging-ahead black/thrash that doesn't take itself too seriously, and nor does it become a parody like all those bands trying to be like early Slayer, like, I don't know, Slayer, for instance. It's fast, it's raging and it's over in half an hour, so just get on with it. Then, came Mirror, which is clearly the pick of the three if only for being refreshingly different from what you might have come to expect from the musician/tattoo artist (check his stuff, seriously). Mirror play classic heavy metal through and through, they have a little all-star line-up (Tas is joined by known producer Jaime Gomez Arellano, his Satan's Wrath mate Stamos and Matt fucking Olivo from Repulsion) topped off by a Cypriot singer called Jimmy Mavromatis whom you didn't know, but sure will feel like you've heard him for years when his pipes are done with you, and the songs are all great. Don't be surprised if Mirror begins to get huge, because the art of writing a simple, uncluttered heavy metal song is becoming rarer and rarer these days, and as Ghost (whose first album was produced by Gomez, interestingly enough) have proved conclusively, nothing moves people more than a damn good tune you can remember for months after you first hear it. Tas has jokingly talked about opening for Iron Maiden on an interview we did for Terrorizer, but Mirror would be better than most if not all of the usually crap bands that open up for Maiden, with a couple of exceptions aside. 'Mirror' is the sort of album that's retro without trying to, that dives shamelessly into the pool of its influences but comes out clean on the other side, an album that only people with a clear and unpolluted love for heavy metal could put together. And then, if you do want to get dirty, just spin Tas' last album of 2015, preferably with a considerably amount of beer close by. He joins ex-Sentenced bassist Taneli Jarva (Tas only sings on this one) and songwriter Nik Angelopoulos for some gritty, old-school death metal that does its job of ripping your head off with maximum efficiency. The thing is out on Hells Headbangers, for Satan's sake. Also, that cover art is suspiciously familiar.

37. MINSK The Crash And The Draw
It shouldn't have been like that, given the number of years I've admired Minsk and the joy I felt when they returned from hiatus with a revamped line-up, but 'The Crash And The Draw's true grandiosity only became truly apparent once I saw those songs live. I had enjoyed the record for the few weeks I'd had it, but that's when it truly hit, and it speaks volumes about the band's passion about their current work that they're able to deliver it in such a way. After that, the colossal, mountain-like scope of these songs became entirely obvious and it climbed up like 50 spots on my list. Ask me again next year and it will probably have climbed a few more - it's the kind of rich, detailed gift-that-keeps-on-giving record that creeps up on you like that. So heavy, but delivered in such a way that the heaviness is almost soothing rather than oppressive, despite the palpable rage in many of these songs, 'The Crash And The Draw' proves that the break was not only good for Minsk, but it rendered them even more unique.

Probably the best-kept secret of European extreme music, Bizarra Locomotiva have been Portugal's heaviest and most creative band for over two decades now, not to mention its most crushing live proposition. Get past the fact that they sing in Portuguese (the lyrics are actually superb, there's a sort of poetically repulsive mass of hate and spite thing going on in vocalist Rui Sidónio's output - ask me for a fucking translation if that'll help you get to grips with the band), and you'll find pitch-black, super dense and yet surprisingly approachable industrial metal of the highest order. Guitarist Miguel Fonseca runs the show with riffs so sharp you'll get a shave if you listen to it on headphones, and on this, their fist album in six years, they let loose their best collection of songs ever. Get in, already.

35. LOCRIAN Infinite Dissolution
Look, if I talk any more about this album I'm afraid I will bring about the end of times. So I will just leave you with my introduction for the feature I did with them that was published on Rock-a-Rolla magazine. "Remember the cover of Locrian's last album, 2013's Return To Annihilation? It was so simple – an abandoned shopping cart on an empty, foggy parking lot – but its evocative power was so great when coupled with the Chicago trio's supremely affecting music that we're still haunted by it. Whenever we think of a post-apocalyptic scenario, no matter how many hours of Fallout we've played or how many times we've watched Mad Max, that's the image that keeps haunting us, to the tune of the band's often terrifying mix of electronics, drone, noise and piercing black metal. And now, the image has gotten yet another piece of soundtrack, in the form of Locrian's new album Infinite Dissolution, which sounds like what happens after we move away from the empty parking lot scenario and realise things are much worse even than we thought they were."

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 4 - #59 to #45)

Over halfway, hurray! Or still almost half to go. Depends on how full your glass is.

59. IRON MAIDEN The Book Of Souls
Most of the lists that I've seen that featured 'The Book Of Souls' placed it much higher, and while it does bother me to see the greatest heavy metal band of all time halfway through any list, it doesn't mean I think any less of the record. Yes, I do think it didn't really need to be a double album, and if I could edit it and snip off around 40 of the total 90 minutes it'd make for a muce more kickass album. Nevertheless, what's in it is brilliant through and through, and for a 40-year-old band (!) with absolutely nothing to prove, after a difficult year with Bruce Dickinson's illness, to still go out there guns blazing, trying new things, and maintaining their relevance untouched, is nothing short of a miracle. Up the irons indeed.

58. BELL WITCH Four Phantoms
All the seeds for this were already on 'Longing' (I called it "soul-emptying" at the time), but 'Four Phantoms' rises Bell Witch a step further by growing those seeds into something much darker and much more all-encompassing. For a band with only a bass/drums/vocals setup (albeit a very special bass), this Seattle duo accomplish great feats of dynamics, which is what allows the dense, grinding morass of the four songs to never become samey, or even predictable. Having an unmistakable sound and personality within funeral doom isn't easy, but Bell Witch have them in spades.

57. WREKMEISTER HARMONIES Night Of Your Ascension
An unbelievably awesome cast of musicians has collaborated with J. R. Robinson for the third Wrekmeister Harmonies album, and as it seems inevitable by now, it is an effort every bit as essential as the other two. Featuring two huge and deeply immersive tracks, each of them with a very particular real-life inspiration (Don Carlo Gesualdo and Father John Geoghan, google both and be terrified) and fluctuating between spooky ambient drones and full on sonic violence, in a perfect ebb and flow of genius.

56. SUMAC The Deal
      MUTOID MAN Bleeder
Few things have been funnier in 2015 than the "band feud" between Mutoid Man and Old Man Gloom. Of course it wasn't for real, and even if it had been we wouldn't have believed it anyway given the nature of these pranksters. Anyway, the only thing better than that was actually 'Bleeder', Mutoid Man's full-length debut which was a wild rollercoaster ride through strands of every band member's other stuff (Mutoid Man consists of Cave In's Stephen Brodsky, Converge's Ben Koller and Saint Vitus - the Brooklyn metal bar - soundman Nick Cageao) amped up by a million litres of energy drinks, or whatever. Another band in this "family" of prankster weirdos is SUMAC, brainchild of Isis/Old Man Gloom's Aaron Turner and surreally awesome Baptists' drummer Nick Yacyshyn, joined every now and then by Russian Circles' Brian Cook. That mindblowing line-up is essentially (and without meaning to reduce them in any way) a less chaotic version of Old Man Gloom, but where the more concise and explicitly written nature of the material doesn't detract from the savagery of the impact. Plus, they play live a bunch, so here's hoping for a 2016 show somewhere I can go to.

55. PRURIENT Frozen Niagara Falls
In what is probably the first comparison ever made between the two bands, Prurient, just like Iron Maiden, could have done with a little snipping of their material on their 2015 release. Although in this case the hour-and-a-half is more justified, and more expected too, given Dominic Fernow's wildly extensive discography. 'Frozen Niagara Falls' was designed from the start to be a sprawling, gigantic mantle of noise being laid on top of you, sometimes cold and harsh, sometimes warm and deceptively welcoming, and always escaping any of the trappings of electronic-based music, let alone the noise genre.

54. TYRANNY Aeons In Tectonic Interment

53. NAPALM DEATH Apex Predator - Easy Meat
It's a similar situation to Iron Maiden - Napalm Death have been around for decades, they essentially invented grindcore, and here they are in 2015 still being the best grindcore band in the world and releasing a restless, creative and crushing album. On top of it, their social concerns and the way they tackle difficult subjects in their lyrics hasn't subsided yet, making them all the more essential and irreplaceable.

52. DOPETHRONE Hochelaga
Dopethrone already earned their immortal place in my heart for their cover of Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine', on their second album and best album 'Dark Foil', but there's much more to them than that. 'Hochelaga', their fourth full-length, is the one that gets closer to 'Dark Foil's viciously dirty and grimy sludge, and having seen the band live in 2015, it's clear that the amazing 'Scum Fuck Blues' has already turned into the band's anthem, and very appropriately so. A quick comparison just for kicks - right now, I'd take any Dopethrone song over any song from that other band that has an album called 'Dopethrone'.

51. NILE What Should Not Be Unearthed
      HATE ETERNAL Infernus
Unless you're a total death metal nerd, in which case I salute you, war brother, you probably think these bands have been a huge bore for years now. You'd be kinda right too, but listen up, because both of them delivered their best efforts in ages and sent a big kick up technical/brutal death metal's overweight butt. According to what he told me when I interviewed him after the Nile album came out, Karl Sanders finally stopped paying attention to what people say of his band on the internet (seriously) and tried to do a kickass album for the fans to enjoy and not a complicated math puzzle for the tablature geeks to argue about. Sounds like a no-brainer, but whatever, it works and it's given us the best Nile album since 'Annihilation Of The Wicked'. Hate Eternal's 'Infernus', on the other hand, is probably Hate Eternal's best album ever, a twisting, exhilarating maze of brutality that is as constantly pummeling as the band is known for, but never gets boring or lost in its own idiosyncrasies. I also interviewed Erik Rutan, who is a totally awesome dude to talk to by the way, when 'Infernus' came out, and he told me he'd like to do a doom album. Come on Erik, 2016's your year.

50. HOODED MENACE Darkness Drips Forth
I went so crazy for guitarist Lasse Pyykkö's tone that I said this on a Terrorizer review about this new album: "It's like Autopsy were extradited to Sweden just before recording 'Mental Funeral'." I don't use that comparison lightly. I also said that "on its fourth full-length, the formula is working better than ever. Allowing excellently crafted melodies to seep through the horror, the impact of the four songs is even greater than on past favourites like 2010's 'Never Cross The Dead', and the rancid atmosphere captured throughout more than reflects the mood created by the magnificent Justin Bartlett artwork," and yeah, that's more or less it.

You know, my reviews on Terrorizer are a good mine to plunder when I'm feeling lazy on my blog. I loved Orthodox's new album, and here's why: "Reduced to a core duo of bassist/vocalist Marco Serrato (who still produces some of the eeriest tremolo vocals) and drummer Borja Díaz, this is their most straightforward, metallic offer so far, but even that deceptive simplicity is constantly being passed through a filter of  oblique strangeness and uncomfortable, religious-sounding moods… which only make those big bass riffs hit harder. Being unique in 2015 isn't easy, but Orthodox nail it." They nail it and then some - the damn thing has grown even more on me since I wrote that, so get to it.

48. CORRECTIONS HOUSE Know How To Carry A Whip
2013's 'Last City Zero' was a damn contender for album of the year, the proof that supergroups can actually work if there's a clear idea and intention (and talent, talent helps) behind them. Scott Kelly, Mike Williams, Bruce Lamont and Sanford Parker make up for a quartet that's even hard to believe, but Corrections House delivers past the weight of any name. 'Know How To Carry A Whip' initially hit me less harder than the debut, mainly because it feels more written, more deliberate than the abrasive chaos offered by 'Last City Zero', a notion confirmed by the musicians' in subsequent interviews, but once the songs do settle down in your head, it's yet another journey of industrial horror that awaits you. Also, they are devastating live, so if you get the chance to see them, don't throw it away.

47. BOSSE-DE-NAGE All Fours
See, whenever someone speaks of black metal as a closed genre, or as something with a strict set of rules, there are several things to do. Either laugh and walk away and go have ice cream, or do that but first write the names of these two albums on a piece of paper and hand it to the buffoon. Two forward-thinking, exploratory bands who, despite all their creative meanderings, still slay with a degree of intensity most acts can only have nightmares about. When I reviewed Bosse-De-Nage for Rock-a-Rolla magazine I said that they tend to "screamo and the best of 90s alternative rock as its modifiers of the black metal foundation," and that "All Fours sounds bigger, more expansive and more far-reaching in its transformation of the mother genre – black metal – than ever before, which means they've found their own formula and now keep tweaking it and messing with it," and that should be enough motivation to go investigate if you're not familiar with them. As for the Dutch mob Terzij De Horde, which totally floored me when I saw them live last November at the Le Guess Who? festival, I said in a review for Portuguese magazine LOUD! that their songs sound like a grotesque insect coming out of a coccoon, repulsed by the hideous thing they've become. It's a wordy way to say that the band's unique approach to black metal, full of surprising turns at blistering speed and uncomfortable, shifting dynamics, makes them sounds like no one but themselves. Which is quite something.

46. ABYSSAL Antikatastaseis
Portal ripping it up while a mixtape of Leviathan's best riffs plays in the background, right? That's the hamfisted way to quickly describe Abyssal, but however you want to look at it, don't let this record go past you. Despite still being clearly a death metal album, it has a universal appeal at the core of its murky heart, there is the dread and darkness of doom and the malice of the sharpest black metal, and besides, any band that earns a comparison to Portal is worthy of being listened to in any case.

45. PISSGRAVE Suicide Euphoria
So the cover of this album features what seems like a pile of human remains being dissolved in a bathtub of shit and other assorted fluids, and Pissgrave's foul, bad-taste brand of fucking sick death metal sounds exactly like that image looks. 'Nuff said, right?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 3 - #74 to #60)

Third volume. Three's the charm, or something. Well, there are some charming records here at least. And some, well, not so much.

74. GALLEY BEGGAR Silence & Tears
I first heard of Galley Beggar from a good friend who's way into British folk, the whole Canterbury scene and whatnot. Already then, they seemed a little bit different, and apparently Lee Dorrian felt the same when he signed them for Rise Above. A truly amazing update of sorts of the classic Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span folk rock sound, Galley Beggar state their mission is to imagine "the next phase of English folk rock", and, well, mission accomplished I'd say. Can't wait to see them at Roadburn!

73. INSECT ARK Portal/Well
If you need pedigree, Dana Schlechter's got it: from founding Gift Horse with Leviathan's Jef "Wrest" Whitehead to playing in The Angels Of Light to playing bass live for American Music Club, signs of her amazing talent are everywhere. With her new solo project (which has since expanded to include drummer Ashley Spungin, at least in a live situation), she uses synths and programmed drums, a lap steel guitar processed through the mouth of Satan itself (or so it seems) and bass to flesh out your worst nightmares in all their serene beauty. If it sounds contradictory, so does the record., in the best way possible.

72. GUY GARVEY Courting The Squall
Listening to Elbow already feels like we're reading the man's diary or some other equal invasion of privacy, so it was rather surprising to see Guy Garvey go solo. But after a spin of 'Courting The Squall', it is very understandable, mostly on a musical level - while his lyrics maintain the same emotionally raw yet evocatively, intimately poetic nature, and his voice is equally hauntingly fragile, the music here is much less polished than Elbow's, much less sorrowfully grandiose, so to speak. In many ways, they sound like what you'd imagine Elbow's demos would, apart from a jazzier, looser vibe to them, and in its totality they make up for a surprisingly tight album and an excellent exercise from the singer.

71. MAGIC CIRCLE Journey Blind
A very recent discovery - not only did the album come out in late November, but I hadn't given much attention to the promo beforehand, always a mistake with the constantly excellent 20 Buck Spin stuff. On my Terrorizer review, I mention that "Everything about them reeks of the golden age of late 70s/early 80s heavy metal," I call vocalist Brendan Radigan's amazing voice "somewhere between Eric Wagner and Terry Jones," and I like them to "'Mob Rules' and Omen and Manilla Road and even the first doom metal heroes like Saint Vitus or Trouble all put together by expert hands that know what they're doing with such influences," so you get the picture why you need to listen to them, right?

70. WITH THE DEAD With The Dead
Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening's new nasty doom band, for which they convinced some guy named Lee Dorrian to sing on. This was a match won even before the first ball was kicked, and this fantastic new trio widely confirmed the expectations with their debut. Raw and miserable, closer in spirit to the most horror movie bits of Ramesses than any other band in the guys' pasts, it's then given that special twist by Lee's unique vocals, a ghostly wail that sounds like the darker Cathedral moments like 'Endtyme' or even 'The Last Spire'. Hopefully they'll stay together and do more records, the potential is huge.

69. POISON IDEA Confuse & Conquer
If you need any kind of recommendation to get new Poison Idea records, you need to go recalibrate your taste first. Anyway, even if this was the first full-length without sadly departed guirarist Pig Champion, it's every bit as great as Poison Idea always were. On my Rock-a-Rolla review, I said this: "Violent and remorseless to the point of unpleasantness, yes, but not without its depth and nuances, and even a surprising singalong or two along the way, it packs a mighty punch only heightened by Joel Grind's spot-on production job."


68. PINKISH BLACK Bottom Of The Morning
      THE GREAT TYRANT The Trouble With Being Born
Daron Beck and Jon Teague, the super talented duo that make up the amazing Pinkish Black, only use voice, keyboards, synth and drums on their records, but even with the equally sparse composition style, they sound fuller and tug at your heartstrings harder than most other bands attempting any kind of morose, mournful, quietly sad music. The despondency and discouragement the band exudes is even sharper on this album, so approach with caution if you're having a bad day. Also this year, we got a crucial glimpse into their musical past, with Relapse also putting out the The Great Tyrant album, the band Beck and Teague used to be in with bassist Tommy Atkins, until Tommy sadly took his own life. 'The Trouble With Being Born' shares a similar vibe with Pinkish Black stuff, except a little vaguer and perhaps even more bizarre in the approach, so be sure to get it as well.

67. CERTO PORCOS (Ódio)666
If you figure out the result of that power in the title, it'll be equal to what is distilled by the hateful 33 minutes of this kickass debut album. One more great metallic crust punk band to come out of the Brazilian underground, Certo Porcos faetures Rodrigo Führer from the legendary Holocausto, and just like the press release that came with my promo said, this record features sixteen blistering tracks of "angst-ridden socio-political venom". A more bile-ridden, direct slap to the face you're unlikely to get anytime soon.

66. BARONESS Purple
While overall it might not quite reach the anthemic nature of 'Yellow & Green's finest, most ear-candy catchy tunes - especially on its 'Yellow' part - 'Purple' is still unmistakably a superb rock album, containing every bit of Baroness that we've come to know and love, the harmonies, the warmly enveloping production, the attention to detail, the incredible artwork... in a way it's "just another" Baroness album, and considering the hell they've been through, that's exactly what we wanted from them. They're okay, and they'll be okay.

65. UNDERSMILE Anhedonia
My, how they've grown. When this blog was still alive (I'm flogging a corpse right now), I had them as band of the week when I first discovered them, and 'Anhedonia' is at the same time the exact same band, in terms of how they continue to impress, and also a completely different band, in the maturity and quality of songwriting they've since acquired. The powerful, pachidermic doom stomp is still a factor in their music, but it's used to reinforce the moodiness and to create dynamics alongside some near-slowcore atomsphere-drenched parts rather than a main vehicle, which makes 'Anhedonia' a potent and affecting record to listen to and maintains the excitement to see what they'll come up with next.

64. PIGS Wronger
Not only was Pigs' 2012 debut 'You Ruin Everything' one of my favourite records of recent years, it also had the best artwork ever. Seriously. It would be hard to keep up with such an abundance of awesome, and 'Wronger' is just a little bit off the mark, but it's still kickass, a vicious bout of bruising, nasty noise rock that'll just pummel you mercilessly and remorselessly from start to finish. What else would you expect from a band with Dave Curran and Andrew Schneider in it?

63. LIGHTNING BOLT Fantasy Empire
Such a big fuss was made about the way 'Fantasy Empire' was recorded, "ohhh, they went to a proper studio, is it different now?" kind of thing, let me tell you this - I interviewed the guys for a cover feature on Rock-a-Rolla, so I got the album really early and still without a press release, so I had no idea how it had been recorded, and you know what? I might be hard of hearing, but it sounded all the same to me. Sure, you can tell details here and there once you do know, but meh. It's Lightning Bolt, okay? It doesn't matter, they'll just charge ahead like electro-shocked rabbits anyhow. 'Fantasy Empire' is another collection of songs that sound like they're running away from an angry mob and trying to catch the last train at the same time a fireworks display is going on, like only Lightning Bolt know how to make 'em.

62. KEN MODE Success
'Success', with all the sarcasm contained in that simple title and all, even sounds like an older, lost KEN mode record at times, such is the angry and raw fashion these songs snap at you. It's not even the most metallic of their albums, far from it, but the rabid mix of noisy grunge and Cop Shoot Cop/The Jesus Lizard sardonic bitterness just lends these songs an extra bite that even time and successive listens won't be able to fade away. They've made an awesome record! That's success. That and nothing else.

61. KRISTIAN HARTING Summer Of Crush
I've been into Kristian ever since I got up early at one South Of Mainstream festival because this Danish singer/songwriter dude who didn't have records out yet was playing and I couldn't miss him, I was told. Well, it was a very good tip, because it was spot on - Kristian has a very unusual approach to the habitual guitar/voice setup, and his songs, while still catchy and frequently emotional, seem somewhat skewed and jagged, almost alien. His debut 'Float' was like that, and 'Summer Of Crush' is even more so, you get the feeling you can't really hold these songs firmly, and yet their slippery, elusive nature is what keeps you coming back for more and more listens. That, and singular moments of genius like the delicately heartbreaking 'Temporary Rooms', too.

While trying to grasp the appeal of Kontinuum, I think I came up with a pretty good way to do it when I reviewed Eistnaflug festival for Terrorizer a couple of months ago: "The next band to shake us out of our constant daylight lethargy are the amazing Kontinuum, whose appeal continues to be hard to describe. Theirs is a very straightforward, no frills kind of heavy rock, yet somehow it manages to drip with a very characteristic groove, cold and mysterious and deeply captivating, a sort of more focused Madrugada." Metal Archives throws the "progressive post-black metal" tag, whatever that is, but yeah. Just listen to 'Kyrr' and let me know what you think, as soon as you recover your dropped jaw from underneath the couch.