Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 6 - #23 to #15)

Carefully crafted, elegant and perfectly flowing, Dead To A Dying World's second album is an absolute revelation. That it is a Billy Anderson-produced album with violins and a dulcimer on it should give you enough indication of the scary/beautiful contrasts at work here, but it's only once you allow it to lengthen its sizeable shadow over you that the true appeal of 'Litany' shall make itself apparent. When Roadburn announced these guys are playing there in the next edition of the festival (can't wait!), I wrote in the press release that "From sweeping classical passages to almost unbearably fierce black metal outpourings, our shortcomings as a species are therein displayed without remorse, as are their devastating effects, and so the result is the overall atmosphere of their songs becoming one of epically decaying doom, as much in style as in the feeling of dread itself," so, you know, deal with it.

One of the year's biggest revelations for me, and unfortunately for my promoter friends around Europe, one of the bands I'll be endlessly pestering them about bringing over to a festival or show I might attend. The description is easy - Zuriaake, or 葬尸湖, are from China, and on 'Gu Yan', or '孤雁', they play some of the most fantastically immersive, evocative, soaring, Wolves In The Throne Room-like atmospheric black metal since, well, since 'Two Hunters' itself, with no exaggeration. They steer well clear off the beaten path by incorporating Chinese folk influences so well merged into the writing that in a way it's like the soundtracks to 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' or 'Hero' put into black metal form. Plus, they look awesome on stage. Do yourself a favour and go spend some time (and money) on their bandcamp.

21. PROTOMARTYR The Agent Intellect
Another great discovery for me, although 'The Agent Intellect' is already Protomartyr's third album (and the other two, 2012's 'No Passion All Technique' and 2014's 'Under Color Of Official Right', are equally great). I'm glad I decided to check out a few of the names I didn't know before embarking on the great adventure that was the Le Guess Who? festival in Utrecht. Among them was this post-punk/noise rock-ish band whose singer sounded like a mix of Nick Cave and Sivert Høyem at first that instantly captured my attention, and the more I listened to the morose, thought-provoking lyrics the man was spitting out, the more I was drawn to the tunes. Seeing them live totally sealed the deal - frontman Joe Casey is just about the best frontman ever, his anti-image and the way he barks the words on stage are genuine, bullshit-free and totally from the gut, and he manages to turn that middle-aged, half-drunk English teacher manner of his, doing his thing while the rest of the (much yonger) band buzzes frantically around him, into the coolest thing ever, or the less cool thing ever, or whatever.

20. GOLD No Image
Right, speaking of no image, how about this total u-turn for GOLD? The rich, bright colours and infectious melodies of the Dutch band's marvellous debut (which I placed 12th in my 2012 list) have given way to a literal no image, full of subtle dark shades both visually and in terms of songwriting too. There's more density, there's a permeating sombreness with hints of both post-punk and death rock and a fantastic evolution from vocalist Milena Eva, who swaggers, croons and sings her heart out like the best of 'em. While you might not be humming those sweet choruses that 'Gone Under' or 'Love, The Magician' (or any other from the debut, really, maybe apart from the last song which kind of hinted in this current direction already) offered, the staying power and the replayability of killer cuts 'Servant' or 'And I Know Now' is greatly amplified.

19. BEHOLD! THE MONOLITH Architects Of The Void
Come on, you know that's going to be a killer record from the cover alone. Fortunately, Behold! The Monolith deliver everything their awesome artwork promises and much more besides. Following a difficult period when they lost bassist/vocalist Kevin McDade to a car accident in 2013 (we miss you, dude), B!TM regrouped, found a smashing new voice in Jordan Nalley and now deliver the best album of their career. It's not the first time I've praised this band, I had their previous album 'Defender, Redeemist' on my 2012 list and I said of one of its songs that it was "an unsung future classic that all the Mastodon-and-clones of this world combined wouldn't know what to do with even if it landed its enormous girth on their laps," which is kinda true of what you can find on 'Architects Of The Void' still, but at the same time doesn't quite explain everything that's going on besides the huge riffs and the roughness of the attack. I suppose the definitive wake up call to everyone who hasn't realised yet the tremendous power of Behold! The Monolith will be their appearance at Roadburn, a battlefield that I can't wait to witness.

There isn't much to say about Skepticism that you don't know already - if you're into funeral doom you'll surely have had this for months and dedicated your most miserable, bitterness-ridden hours to it. Skepticism always take their time with things (it's been seven years since 'Alloy') but it's always worth it. 'Ordeal' was actually recorded live, and the biggest compliment that can be paid to that experience is that you only notice it when you hear the crowd quietly applauding between songs. Otherwise, it's the Finnish band's typically crushing and yet moving brand of miserable doom, gigantic laments that ebb and flow slowly while slowly applying more and more pressure on you until you're ready to explode with the dramatic tension. Despite the crowd sounds, the way the songs bleed into each other is amazing, and you might be forgiven for not realising straight away that 'Closing Music' really does close out the album - the next two songs are none other than new versions of 'Pouring' (from 'Stormcrowfleet') and 'The March And The Stream' (from 'Lead And Aether'). Music to wash you away into nothingness.

In a strange way, 'Abyss' has a similar effect to what I just described for Skepticism's 'Ordeal', except more aggressive, more incisive. But it does "wash you away into nothingness", it feels like an inevitable slide into a darker place where you never dared to go. 'Abyss' was deservingly album of the month on Terrorizer and I was lucky enough to write that review, and those words are still the best way I can describe it. "(...) Chelsea has made 'Abyss' her best work yet, by far, which is saying something already. A simple press of play for the very first time plunges us into the industrialised bleakness 'Carrion Flowers', a drone/doom affair if done by any other artist, a chilling descent into the namesake abyss that follows when Chelsea lays the deeply, deeply meaningful "We learned how on our own / Never needing help from you" words on top of the chaos that surrounds the listener by the point she enters the song. It's easy to guess that not a lot of light will seep in from this moment on, but it does, oh, it does. The overarching theme of the album is the struggle the singer has had with sleep paralysis, but when something like 'Crazy Love' appears in the middle of the album, mostly acoustic and perhaps her most brilliantly (and yet very simply) crafted song since the heart-stopping 'Sunstorm' from the 'Unknown Rooms' album, it's as if the paralysis is lifted, as if cold bodies begin to thaw momentarily, a feeling reinforced by the equally hauntingly beautiful 'Simple Death' and 'Survive' before being plunged into the deepest parts of the abyss the two final songs of the album offer."

16. GNAW THEIR TONGUES Abyss Of Longing Throats
      IT ONLY GETS WORSE Christian Country Home
      CLOAK OF ALTERING Manifestation
      PYRIPHLEGETHON Night Of Consecration
Dude, come on. You know what, I'm actually sort of looking forward to the day when Mories will make a sucky record so that these things don't ruin all the album cover placements on my blog entries and stuff. But no, despite his seemingly endless productivity, there's no sign of a turkey in sight, so here we go. Okay, so let's start by the non-collaborative ones: Gnaw Their Tongues you obviously know by now - you might even have seen them live already, something I thought would never happen but which I did three times in 2015. 'Abyss Of Longing Throats' was described by me as "Gnaw Their Tongues at their "usual", which means mechanical (blast)beats, putrid basslines and nasty, revolting industrial black metal almost constantly on the red in terms of volume and intensity and violence and everything. While not introducing anything particularly new like some of his previous albums, the clearer production and more audible vocals do take everything up a notch – more extreme, but also more approachable and less randomly chaotic," on Rock-a-Rolla magazine, and that still sounds just about right. Cloak Of Altering keeps getting crazier and crazier with each record (and it's been a steady pace of one a year since 2011), and 'Manifestation' seems kind of unsurmountable in the way harsh electronics, programmed drums and voice modulations are mixed with a nasty black metal approach. It's like Mysticum on bad drugs, on top of the bad drugs Mysticum themselves were probably on already when they wrote 'In The Streams Of Inferno'. Then there's Pyriphlegethon, which I dare you to say quickly three times, or rather, don't, who knows what kind of weird demon shit you might be invoking. Says here that "Pyriphlegethon (Πυριφλεγέθων, English translation: "fire-flaming") was one of the five rivers in the infernal regions of the underworld," in Greek mythology, and that's appropriate because the crazy rawness of this black metal attack does indeed bring to mind some of that early Greek primitivism, Necromantia and the likes, that we know Mories to be so fond of. Complete change of pace for It Only Gets Worse, one of the most interesting projects Mories has ever been involved in, and the one which could potentially attract more followers other than the crazy pack of fans that know all his other stuff - a collaboration with Matt Finney (whom I have interviewed on this blog before, and who also has/had a rather wonderful duo with Heinali, an album I placed 53rd on the 2011 list), it's sort of a more concrete, sadder Seirom. It drips melancholy and loneliness, its overal ambient music flirts with quiet, subdued dubstep and hip hop, and it would leave you feeling blue and instrospective even if you were listening to it while riding a rollercoaster. Check out the song premiere we did on Terrorizer about them. Finally, there's the collaboration with Dragged Into Sunlight, and, well. Let's put it this way - if you need any more encouragement to get stuck into this savage half hour created by these two entities, a record that is supposed to be a re-imagination of 'Streetcleaner', and on which Justin K. Broadrick actually participated in the production, I can't do anything for your good taste because you're dead inside.

Maybe the forthcoming documentary, which is said to be amazing, will finally help lift Killing Joke to the kind of immortal status they so deserve to be held in for their surreal career so far. A career that doesn't seem to be slowing down after almost 40 years, on the contrary - 'Pylon' concludes a tryptich of connected albums that ranks as some of the best work the band has ever done, and it is, once again, its own beast. "Jaz Coleman's angrily pristine choirboy-from-hell vocals, the charging ahead industrialised beats, Geordie's razor-sharp riffage, and yet, you'd be hard-pressed to take one out of the other fourteen records that it resembles more closely," I said on my Terrorizer review, and I dare you to think of another 37 year old band that you could describe in such a way.

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