Sunday, December 26, 2010

AOTY #7: Drudkh - Handful of Stars

Another black metal album a lot of people disliked - notice a pattern yet? Drudkh never play live, refuse to be photographed, and don't grant interviews. Needless to say Drudkh are loved by the underground - but not all of it. Normally it's a safe bet there are folk instruments and a bit of atmosphere, but Handful of Stars introduces something new. The tone of this record is a new one for the band. There is a lot of post-punk influence, and dare I suggest - a little bit of a shoegaze feeling. Handful of Stars drones and swirls and it may not be kvlt, but it's new and a good turn. The songs feel more sombre and emotional, without losing the same feeling that characterized Drudkh's previous work. The guitar work is melodic, with good lead work, all coming together in a wall-of-sound style which fits the album's outlook perfectly. A good example of a band extending its reach in all the right ways..

AOTY #8: Ihsahn - After

Let's start with the obvious: Ihsahn is a genius. Not only is he an excellent guitarist and vocalist, but a good composer, arranger, and band leader. He's moved on since Emperor, and there is growing to be less and less traditional black metal in his sound with each successive project. But this has turned out to be a blessing: as Ihsahn moves, he experiments with his sound in new ways, starting with the Adversary, to the excellent angL, and now After. The songs here are longer and feature some saxophone courtesy of Norwegian Shining (not to be confused with the Swedish band.) My own skepticism was overcome on first listen, and the new style blends with the old very well - you'll notice the new stuff when you're supposed to and it'll hit you well. Another progressive metal masterpiece of the best sort - a genuine one.

AOTY #9: Nachtmystium - Addicts: Black Meddle Pt.2

This is another album people wither loved or hated. Mostly it got hell. Nachtmystium have been slowly exiled from the black metal community over the last few years as they've begun to black around with their sound. Addicts is another step beyond no return. Assassins was psychedelic, but Addicts is another beast. All the shit began to fly when No Funeral was posted. Synthesizers? It seemed (speaking truth to a certain saying involving assholes) like everyone had an opinion and was ready to throw Blake Judd and company to the wolves over a single song. Turns out most of the album didn't include the dance beat of the lead single, but the album is still a move to the outer extremities of the metal world. The post-punk feel is ramped up, and the music has (excuse my phrasing) a groove to it which was being tested on Assassins. Where they'll go from here I don't know, but Addicts is still dark, dreary, and bleak, not sacrificing tone for sound. Oh, and it's good too. Real good.

AOTY #10: Alcest - Écailles de Lune

As far as black metal goes, this won't be everyone's cup of tea. In fact, it's something that most black metal strives against - mellow. Alcest has been getting steadily shoegazier over the years, and I can't help but dig it. Those familiar with Neige's other work know what to expect by now (one of his other projects also released a record this year - Lantlôs - .neon.) Expect moments of genuine beauty here, and some soft vocals, all filtered through a lot of psychedelic fuzz. Take a listen and you'll either love it or hate it. Bands in Alcest's neck of the woods tend to evoke that response, and I've always thought that it's a sign you're headed in a meaningful direction.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

AOTY #11: Swans - My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

This list is full of confessions. I only got into Swans this year. But as a post-punk fanatic since my teen years, this has been LONG overdue. Swans were a band I'd been told to listen to for years, but most recently by my good friends Ben & Lauren. I have them to thank for my introduction to Michael Gira, Jarboe & company. So imagine my joy at the release of a new Swans record in 2010. Sure there's no Jarboe here, but that's not as important as you'd might believe as a Swans fan. Here it goes: Swans are not metal, but have always been one of the more extreme bands out there. The real joy is Michael Gira's voice though, and hearing it is always a pleasure. A lot of the record is kinda low-key and frequently psychedelic - from the short (Reeling the Liars In) to the longer compositions. Swans is Gira's band now more than ever, and this is a very good return to form.

AOTY #12: Deathspell Omega - Paracletus

Let me start off with some heresy. I've never been a huge Deathspell Omega fan. I know, I know, I'm a bad black metal fan. BUT, let me start by saying that Paracletus changed my mind. Maybe this record is more experimental, maybe not. Either way, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I should have been a bigger DSO fan. Compared to the other black metal releases that floored me this year, this is more traditional, but still unorthodox enough to impress me a good deal. If you're a fan, check it out, if not, be converted. Something about the doomier moments of Paraceltus, maybe like the track Dearth. Not sure, but I like what I'm hearing and my eyes and ears are now open.

Monday, December 20, 2010

AOTY #13: Dax Riggs - Say Goodnight to the World

Okay, a lot of metalheads might not listen to Dax Riggs. His claim to fame is that he was the singer for the band Acid Bath back in the 90s, but since then he's kept his distance from metal. He's spent his career since recording solo work under a variety of project names and most recently, under his own name. Say Goodnight to the World is Riggs' second formal solo record, and a bit different from his first. His first (We Sing of Only Blood or Love) was a record of shorter, driving rock songs while this record is a bit longer, slower and blues based. The songs here feel a bit more interesting and careful than before, and he even adds an Elvis cover to his repertoire. I got a chance to see him tour these songs, and he feels at home with them. But then again who wouldn't feel at home with a voice like this.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

AOTY #14: Black Breath - Heavy Breathing

At the beginning of this year, I had not idea Heavy Breathing was set to come out. At that point I'd only heard the Razor to Oblivion EP, and the name Black Breath was bounded around for a Converge tour as well as MDF VIII. Having had my ticket for the latter, I decided to check out the bands on the list. After hearing Heavy Breathing, Black Breath were one of the bands I was most excited to see at MDF. As I left my friends behind at Pestilence, I was sure I'd made the right choice. Good live show and most importantly - good fucking songs. Unlike a lot of newer bands defined by the HM-2 sound that Kurt Ballou has been pumping out of Godhead studios lately, Black Breath have the riffs to back it up. Hardcore and old school death metal abound here, and the songwriting owes a lot to post Wolverine Blues Entombed. This is a very very good thing. Groovy, heavy, and dirty.

This has been a good year for Black Breath, even if they did make a rather puzzling video for one of the record's best cuts

Friday, December 17, 2010

AOTY #15: Ludicra - The Tenant

Ludicra's The Tenant is one of the better American black metal releases this year, and an underrated pick. A few of the band's members are probably more recognizable for their other past and current projects, but Ludicra deserves some attention here. They play a style of black metal that straddles the line between a traditional black/thrash approach, and an atmospheric style decidedly more familiar to fans of usbm. Specifically, the rhythm section shines on his record with Aesop Dekker's drumming coming through without taking over, the same can be said for the bass playing of Ross Sewage which is unusually pronounced for a black metal record. Such a statement becomes more apparent with the frequent lead guitar work and female vocals, which, despite the howls of protest from anyone hearing those phrases, really defines this band. These little stylistic points set Ludicra apart from a lot of American black metal, and most black metal in general. Hell, at points its easy to forget you're listening to a black metal record (yes that's a good thing.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

AOTY Runners Up

16 Days left in December, 16 planned posts. First, my runners up for the year:

Panopticon/Skagos split

Two great North American black metal bands on one split. If you thought that a bunch of European fascists cornered the market on folk black metal you'd be wrong. Both Tennessee's Panopticon and British Colombia's Skagos follow up great 2009 releases by expanding on their already expanding sounds. Skagos take the slight victory here - pounding drums, acoustic guitars, and a good mixture of vocals and effects. Nature oriented anarcho-pagan black metal, what's not to approve of?

Post-script: Panopticon's tracks from this split (as well as others) are available on the new On the Subject of Mortality in case you're not hep to the split format.

Stargazer - A Great Work of Ages

If I said: blackened death metal featuring former members of Portal - what would you think? Well, forget that comparison. Stargazer are far more straightforward than their fellow Aussies, and a lot more accessible to begin with. This is some good progressive death metal, without being too pretentious. Take a listen to the bass work on A Great Work of Ages and tell me you didn't have the urge to burn your guitar, leave your girlfriend and sell everything you own to play like that.

Altar of Plagues - Tide EP

What can be said about these guys that hasn't already been said? The words post-black metal always come up because, well, it's a fucking apt description. They toured North America this year with Velnias and a bunch of other great opening acts in different cities that reads like a virtual who's who of up-and-coming DIY doom and usbm. Only two songs, but one helluva listen at over 34 minutes. Oh and new AoP in the pipes from Profound Lore for 2011, just sayin...

Fleshpress - No Return; Rebuild/Crumble

Two EPs from Finnish band Fleshpress this year, we should be honored. Fleshpress play massively heavy sludge-doom with a good chuck of black metal influence. In other words: the kind of shit you should ALL be eating up. This is a "genre" (if one can call it that yet) to be watching over the next year or so. Oh yeah, and Fleshpress features Mikko Aspa, vocalist for black metal legends Deathspell Omega on drums.

Hooded Menace - Never Cross the Dead

Death/doom is alive and well nowadays. For some reason, Finland has been churning out some winners lately, and as far as death metal goes, Hooded Menace are one of their best new exports. A big improvement over their already strong debut, Never Cross the Dead features some evil riffs, knocking on the crypt of the old school death metal gods. No mere Autopsy worship here, Hooded Menace leave the comfy Razorback sound pigeonhole behind and move into the realm of the greats.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bad Metal Videos of 2010, Pt. 2

BLACK BREATH / UNHOLY VIRGIN from Emily Denton on Vimeo.

So, as a personal note, it hurts me to post this. I love Black Breath. I was one of the few people psyched about them at MDF and their record was one of my favorites of the year, and in fact I'm wearing a Black Breath shirt RIGHT NOW.

BUT, this video makes no sense. Not in an "Oh cool, like a David Lynch film?" way some of you might me thinking.

No, it legitimately makes no sense.

Notice the girl carrying a fish. That's right A FISH. Also notice the band playing in some far off location with no contact with women. As everyone points out, this proves Patton Oswalt's point about metal videos.

Maybe it's a parody, or some kind of absurdist art. Maybe it's just meant to be a cheesy way to insert a girl into your video. I don't get it.

Post-script: You can tell it was cold on the day they shot the video. I can't imagine that wasn't planned. Dirty Black Breath, dirty dirty dirty riffs that is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why You're All Wrong About Album of the Year...

I get it. Really I do. You hear a lot about an album and you don't like it as much as everyone else. I understand the urge to call things overrated.

BUT, the amount of rage I've heard - from everyone and 'some guy they know on facebook' who is commenting on their status - is ridiculous. I get that metalheads are notoriously fickle with their support, but this year seemed to go overboard.

Maybe I'm getting to the point where I don't care what you think of something I enjoy, or maybe I'm just tired of every amateur with an opinion getting on a soapbox about what people should be listening to. With that said, here are my own useless two cents:

+ No, I don't think the new Inquisition record is worthy of that much attention, but I am glad that funeral frog found a paying gig

+ I still don't like power metal. For some reason I can't get behind a genre whose fan base overlaps with that of hot pockets. I fear that these people are the reason that Mountain Dew tallboys exist.

+ The same goes for viking metal. I get it, vikings killed Christians. You know who else did? Romans. Where's their sub-genre? (fuck you Ex Deo) Don't use your love of folk metal to justify a neckbeard that somehow is full of crumbs without ever managing to reach the face. The physics of this boggle me.

+ Nile is touring? Not interested. Maybe it's because I can predict what Karl Sanders will write about ("How about another one about Egypt guys?") or maybe it's because his shorts are too long (at what point do they become pants?) Maybe it's the noodling solos that make Kerry King warm in the cockles of his oversized heart. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because he kinda sounds like Mickey Mouse. Try unhearing that one fuckers.

+ Burzum are still (mostly) unlistenable. A few good songs per album won't make me acknowledge the genius of a man, who kinda-sorta-actually-the-resemblance-is-shocking looks like Tommy Chong and the Brawny man. Also, we get it, you hate jews, and I'm sure they'd fear you more if you hadn't composed two albums that sounded like a Legend of Zelda soundtrack. I chalk good Burzum songs up to the old "even blind squirrels sometimes find a nut." On the upside, Varg appears to have finally hit puberty, maybe it happened in prison, but I finally don't think he sounds like one of Homer Simpson's night terrors.

+ All most of you metalheads do is find a band that sounds kinda like a popular band, but with little attention, and fap it. Then you beat it to death talking about how everone should hear about these guys instead. Usually the production is terrible too. All I have to say is: bees in a dryer do not a good record make.


MDF 4-day pass purchased. THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS.

The countdown till:
* Calling out the kvltest patches you can find
* Hearing people talk about a band that quite evidently blows - but hey, their demo is like SO much better than anything here
* People complaining that last year was SO much better
* Getting excited about a band despite the fact you're the only one there at noon
* Watching friends SWEAR its a good decision to sleep in the street
* Watching Dan Lilker not be excited about anything
* Being asked "is that so-and-so from X BAND"
* Being around thousands of people who live on metal-archives
* Uneasy co-mingling of skinheads, foreigners, and anyone on the streets of Baltimore NOT there for MDF
* Not being able to go 5 minutes without hearing "Nice shirt"
* Meeting people who are 9.9/10 genuinely some of the nicest people you'll ever meet over the course of a weekend
* Drinking with the above people, and generally enjoying an occasion that so few people understand

Needless to say, STOKED.

The Thing That Should Not Be: Bad Metal Videos of 2010, Pt. 1

So Xasthur made a video. Some of you might say "Finally! I've been waiting for this!" Those people (if they exist) can now eat their words. This is pretty bleak and - as a friend recently pointed out to me - kinda resembles a Phil Collin's video (if Phil Collins periodically wandered around basements in a cheap robe after passing out in the middle of a cocaine binge.)

Maybe there is some kind of social message here, but more likely Malefic wants you to NEVER BE HAPPY EVER AGAIN. See how long you last before you lose the will to live.

Post script: If you last, notice that this video seems to feature a cameo by internet meme celebrity "You Gonna Get Raped" Guy. Fun stuff.