Friday, December 13, 2013

End of year report 2013 Part 3: Top 25 albums of the year

The final part of this “report” (Parts One and Two, in case you missed them) will be looking at the top 25 albums of the year. Like every year, it’s tricky to whittle down the list because, as per usual, there were a lot of great records in 2013 like Carcass’ mighty return and farewells from Black Boned Angel as well as great records from Portal, Iron Lung, KEN Mode, Morne and Cult of Luna. In case you don’t know what I’m getting at, these albums didn’t make the list but deserved a mention. Now, on with the show. Cheers for reading and as always, the comment section is open below for your death threats and love letters.

25: Tribulation – The Formulas of Death
Sweden’s Tribulation made a few sharp swerves with this new LP, The Formulas of Death and it’s proven to be a success. The Formulas of Death is an overwhelming record with a lot to drink in but it successfully marries the chaos of Swe-death and shameless rock sensibilities. It’s adventurous and equally unforgiving and there’s nothing quite like it in the death metal world of 2013.

24: Castevet – Obsian
Castevet’s last album Mounds of Ash certainly raised a few eyebrows and for all the right reasons, and while the leftfield black metal band’s second record Obsian isn’t quite on the same level, it’s still a staggering triumph for Castevet.

23: Slidhr – Deluge
The long awaited first full-length from Slidhr was pretty much everything we could have hoped it would be; grandiose and unforgiving black metal that’s multi-layered revealing new facets of itself on every listen. And the best part is that a new record is already penned in for 2014.

22: A Province of Thay – The Grieving
A Province of Thay released their debut album in the last few weeks after just a few tracks uploaded online. The Seattle band more than exceeded expectations with The Grieving, a relatively short but no less adventurous record that’s barefacedly melodic and catchy but also grandiose, plucking notions from post rock and shoegaze but with a great emphasis on vocals.

21: True Widow – Circumambulation
Despite being around for quite a few years with a couple of records under their belt, True Widow really made an impact with Circumambulation this year; signing with Relapse probably helped immensely. Dreary, melancholic and inflected with a sense of post-punk and Mazzy Star, Circumambulation is True Widow’s best record yet.

20: Crown of Cerberus – With Arms Extended to the Heavens
M. Chami, the man behind harsh noise and power electronics projects like Koufar, took a step away from scathing barrages of noise to start creating beautiful ambient soundscapes under the guise of Crown of Cerberus. After a couple of intriguing tape releases, he truly struck gold on With Arms Extended to the Heavens, released during the summer, crafting lush and harmonious walls of sound with dense layers of atmospherics and manipulated vocals; and there are more releases in the immediate future including a collaboration with Nyodene D.

19: Njiqahdda – Serpents In The Sky
Njiqahdda release more records in one year than most people would care to count. Jumping from black metal to neo-folk to death metal through the years, they’ve settled on a sludgy tone of late and their first record of 2013, Serpents in the Sky is by far the year’s best. With flavours of Neurosis and Mastodon clashing with brooding atmosphere and some post rock melodies, Serpents in the Sky is ambitious and enthralling.

18: Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)
While it’s pretty disheartening to see Porcupine Tree on the shelf since 2010, Steven Wilson (who has always been prolific) has upped his momentum releasing two more solo records in that time as well material with Blackfield and Storm Corrosion, not to mention his various producing credits. While 2011’s Grace for Drowning’s double album grandeur was solid, The Raven… could lay claim to being Wilson’s best non-Porcupine Tree record. Having assembled a team of luminaries to play alongside, like Marco Minnemann, Guthrie Govan and producer Alan Parsons, this album coalesces all of Wilson’s song writing skills into one stunningly engaging record, with an homage to ‘70s prog all with a distinctly modern identity at the same time.

17: Hammerhands – Glaciers
Toronto’s Hammerhands craft scathing hefts of sonic destruction. Glaciers is a crushing record of sludge metal, ridden with doom flavours throughout and tormented vocals. It’s one of the year’s most vicious and devastating debut albums, without doubt, and may only be a sign of things to come. Glaciers is just astounding at times, this band couldn’t release a follow-up quicker.

16: Gorguts – Colored Sands
Gorguts showed us all how reunion death metal albums should be done and Colored Sands is a complete triumph for Luc Lemay’s re-activated prog-death outfit. While not as jarring and mind-bending as Obscura (arguably their finest record), Colored Sands is still a tour de force of dizzying technicality, vibrant fretwork and searing dissonance, all wrapped up in some lofty lyrical concepts.

15: Children of God – We Set Fire To The Sky
Another debut LP here, this time coming from California’s Children of God with We Set Fire to the Sky. Dark epic hardcore with post metal sprinklings throughout best describes this record and while it’s by no means an original formula, Children of God’s grit and fury is unparalleled and completely sets them apart from their peers.

14: Bvdub – Born in Tokyo
Bvdub’s A Careful Ecstasy, released earlier in 2013, could easily have made this spot but the ambient/electronic project’s latest full-length just pipped it. Given, the man behind it all, Brock Van Wey’s prolific nature, to call it perhaps his best yet is quite a decree. The formula hasn’t been changed for Born in Tokyo though but its execution is even better with vast, sprawling ambient washes and beats coalescing with beautiful vocal arrangements, the album is one to easily become lost in; much like all of Bvdub’s records.

13: Jesu – Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came
While many are understandably excited about the prospect of a new Godflesh record in 2014, Justin K. Broadrick has been his usual prolific self with Jesu (and his myriad other projects). Everyday I Get Closer… is a return to form after 2011’s Ascension, which was actually a great record just not on the same par as Conqueror, Silver et al, but Everyday… firmly places Jesu back on the map with what may be the finest record that Broadrick has done under the Jesu banner.

12: Anacondas – Sub Contra Blues
2013 had plenty of impressive debut albums but nothing quite like Anacondas, the element of surprise possibly helping a lot. The Brighton trio have concocted a hook-laded sludge-ridden hardcore beast here that’s one moment KEN Mode, the next Torche. It’s also shamelessly uplifting too, especially with closing track, ‘This Night Will Last Forever’. Sleep on this album at your peril.

11: Kayo Dot – Hubardo
Where to begin with Hubardo? Toby Driver’s Kayo Dot have never exactly followed a rule book in their avant-garde meanderings, which have taken in more genres than any of us would care to count. Hubardo is a manic double album with an obscene amount of ideas to process but only a band like Kayo Dot could have pulled this off as it hops from jazzy sections to black metal passages and mathy compositions to vibrant brass arrangements. It’s certainly not for everyone and Hubardo isn’t exactly going to win over any converts to its erratic ways but in the context of Kayo Dot, it’s a staggeringly impressive accomplishment.

10: The Body – Christs, Redeemers
Christs, Redeemers may be the year’s coldest and most abjectly harrowing albums. The Body have always conjured the horror of the human condition to devastating effect, both sonically and visually (see their videos). Christs, Redeemers greatly expands upon All The Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood and the Master, We Perish EP, collaborating once again with The Assembly of Light choir, which meshed with the cataclysmic sludge and hellish vocals of Chip King, makes for a totally unsettling listen.

09: Mourning Beloveth – Formless
Sticking with gloom, Mourning Beloveth are of course dab hands at their doom metal craft. Formless is a vast and sprawling double album of melancholic and deathly doom metal. It’s a skill they’ve mastered over the years but this new ambitious LP treks into some new pastures while still being markedly Mourning Beloveth.

08: Ulcerate – Vermis
Thankfully Vermis is pretty much everything we hoped it would be from Ulcerate. The NZ death metal band had long established themselves with a slew of imposing oppressive DM records but signing with Relapse meant that their sonic annihilation would reach something of a new audience and Vermis has delivered in spades. It’s crushing and unholy for its entire running time with no give. While there have been plenty of exciting DM bands of late that are perfectly happy with revising older concepts, Ulcerate can certainly lay claim to being the future.

07: Scale the Summit – The Migration
Scale the Summit have been on a steady trajectory since 2009, with their breakthrough on Carving Desert Canyons. While technical instrumental bands of this ilk are ten a penny in the last five years or so, Scale the Summit have totally eclipsed their peers in Animals as Leaders, especially in 2011 with The Collective, a record striking the balance between face melting technicality and simply great songwriting.  The Migration picks up right from where The Collective left off with dizzying guitar work and shamelessly ebullient hooks.

06: Man’s Gin – Rebellion Hymns
While the world pines for a new Cobalt album, we still have Man’s Gin, the dreary folk and Americana side project from guitarist Erik Wunder. He made some waves with his last album Smiling Dogs but Rebellion Hymns is markedly better in every way. Soaked in melancholy, bleeding heart emotion and odes to empty bottles and destitution, Wunder pulls on many a heartstring with his sombre vocals, like a particularly bleak Springsteen, and his acoustic guitar on harrowing compositions like ‘Varicose’ but when joined by several other musicians, including string arrangements, he can craft somewhat uplifting pieces like ‘Never Do The Neon Lights’, telling us that maybe, just maybe, we’re not totally doomed after all.

05: The Lion’s Daughter & Indian Blanket – A Black Sea
Released just last month, A Black Sea is the collaborative album of black metallers The Lion’s Daughter and folk band Indian Blanket. On paper it doesn’t quite like it will work, but the duo manage to create a cohesive record that maintains shades of their respective work but more often than not treks into fresh blackened doom terrain all complemented by huge sounding violin sections and beautiful/harsh vocals. It’s one of the year’s most welcomed surprises and hopefully won’t be the last we’ll hear of these two bands together.

04: Cloud Rat – Moksha
Cloud Rat’s Moksha came out back in February but easily maintains a hold as 2013’s very best grind record, a notable feat given that Iron Lung and PLF released albums this year. Soaked in fervent emotion, Cloud Rat have always meshed scorching grind with screamo’s broken-hearted scorn but on Moksha, they’ve absolutely mastered the balance with fierce diatribes like ‘Ink Blot’ and ‘Daunting Daughters’ but also the crushingly melodic and harrowing ‘Infinity Chasm’, which is on a whole other plane while ‘Vigil’ stands head and shoulders above the rest as a devastating highlight.

03: Skagos – Anarchic
Black metal has forked off into so many different realms now, whether it’s a band sticking to the path of orthodoxy and the old school; or bands like Skagos, treading that divisive path of “post” black metal. While the latter has become a wearisome sub-genre at this stage, rife with half-baked records that aren’t nearly as compelling as they could be (Deafheaven or Liturgy for example), it just takes a stellar record like Anarchic to restore one’s faith. Soaked in morose melody and toying with even more clean vocals than Ást did, Skagos have sculpted out a BM record here that is every bit beautiful as it is grim, while they’ve taken often formulaic traits, like post rock builds and climaxes, and made them their own, all of which is exhibited stunningly by the album’s many peaks and troughs, but still with a natural flow.

02: Light Bearer – Silver Tongue
Light Bearer topped this list in 2011 with Lapsus, their first album, so following up that record and attempting to top it was going to be a task and a half, but it’s exactly what they’ve done with Silver Tongue. The British post metal band explores many ambitious and determined concepts and Silver Tongue is just the second instalment of what will be a four-part series of albums. At nearly 80 minutes, there’s a whole lot to take in here but it’s an album that passes by in a breeze, taking you through different sonic panoramas all wrought with heaving riffs, beautiful melody, abject emotional displays and breathtaking crescendos. With the way things are going, there’s a good chance will be saying the exact same thing about record number three in a year or two.

01: Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory & Injury
Farewell, Altar of Plagues. Teethed Glory & Injury is the final chapter in what is to be an impressive legacy left behind, in a relatively short space of time, by one of Ireland’s most intriguing and visceral bands ever. This third album is decidedly different than everything they’ve done before, which truly says something as each album or EP has been a huge evolution. Teethed… maintained some crucial elements of black metal but for the most part looked to new sonic terrain, namely those aural vistas explored by James Kelly’s electronic project Wife and even hints of grindcore (Pig Destroyer’s Prowler in the Yard became a common reference point throughout the year). The impending result was a breathlessly compelling record. How the album will hold up in 10 or 20 years is anyone’s guess but at this moment in time it’s by far and away the very best of 2013.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

End of year report 2013 Part 2: Demos & Splits

Instead of running through the usual lists at the end of the year, I’ve decided to change this post up just ever so slightly (fret not, there are still plenty of lists coming), taking a look at some of the best and most interesting demos and splits released in 2013.

Fresh off the press is Malthusian’s much anticipated demo release (through Invictus Productions). Having played just one show in April, Malthusian drummed up a bit of hype before a note of recorded music even revealed itself, mostly down to the characters involved, including members of Mourning Beloveth, Altar of Plagues, On Pain of Death and Wreck of the Hesperus. Several months passed by and what emerged from the mire was their debut three-track demo, a caustic but ambitious death metal foray that taken some inspiration from black metal and doom too but never loses its natural flow. It’s a heady gauntlet for a new band to lay down with a first release.

Staying in Ireland, we have Krawwl, who came out of nowhere with their demo of experimental and angular black metal that’s taken cues from Deathspell Omega but with their own flair. 2014 should be an interesting time ahead, especially with some live shows on the horizon.

Moving into something that is decidedly black metal and also to one of black metal’s (un)holy lands, Finland. Kêres released The Wanderer’s Path demo this year. The tape very much treads a path of orthodoxy, crafting BM compositions that are straightforward with no frills, drenched in frosty, nihilistic atmosphere but riddled with caustic but memorable riffing, especially on second track ‘Two Cores Unite’ while ‘Monastic Spirit Torture’ (listen below) reels things into more wretched mid-tempo riffing with a stronger focus on atmosphere.

Fellows Finns Arnaut Pavle trek an even more old-school path and their new demo tape makes Kêres’ sound glossy and pristine, with its manky Venom-isms and grimy guitar tones, and track titles like ‘Eat the Soil from This Grave’ are an added plus.

However, it’s the demo from Vancouver’s Erosion that really stands out. Featuring former 3 Inches of Blood vocalist Jamie Hooper and members of Baptists, Erosion’s Kill Us All is crusty death metal in excelsis with heads firmly nodding towards Repulsion and Bolt Thrower as well as d-beat; it’s short, vicious, unforgiven and even catchy. Brilliant stuff.

Moving onto splits, one of the year’s latest impressive releases was that from Monuments Collapse and Bréag Naofa. Both post metal bands deliver colossal sides, which are their best material to date. Check out the full review HERE, which includes a Bréag Naofa stream.

Staying in a somewhat similar sonic realm is the split release from Vestiges and Panopticon. Vestiges’ prior material pretty much took influence from Fall of Efrafa and picked up where that band left off when they split up but with their new material here they have explored more of their black metal tendencies. Meanwhile, Aaron Lunn’s Panopticon had a task ahead of him in following up last year’s acclaimed Kentucky with his black metal/US folk hybrid but his two new tracks complement his latest work perfectly and the cover of Suicide Nation’s ‘Collapse & Die’ makes for another treat.

Moving on again. Short and to the point with just one track each, the split released by Amiensus and Oak Pantheon was a late arrival to the list of 2013 releases but its quality was not all that surprising given that the two bands involved released impressive debut albums last year of epic Agallochian-imbued metal. 

Absolutist this year teamed up with Link for a split LP and the former are a band that just keep getting better and better. Last year’s Ave LP was a cracker and this split sees the crust band attempting some new things with a 15 minute piece, ‘Fall To None’ with post metal-like grandeur but still shades of Ave’s urgency intact. Link on the other hand pick up where their last album left off with four new servings of manic dark hardcore.

Finally, there is the split cassette from sludge doom bands Hell and Amarok. Released on Vulture Print, Hell continued their streak of quality releases with three new slabs of misanthropic doom while Amarok delivered a heavy 20 minute dirge that moved through similar styles but exploited pianos and string arrangements to full effect.

Check back tomorrow for the albums of the year.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

End of year report 2013 Part 1: EPs

Another year, another bout of end-of-year lists; it’s been an established tradition for a long time. It’s common knowledge that our homosapien ancestors survived the harsh winter debating their favourite LPs when not hunting for meat in the wilds. Much like last year’s list making extravaganza, this will be divided over three days with the top Irish releases coming soon over on CVLT Nation.

Today’s first instalment is EPs with demos and splits tomorrow and of course, albums on Friday.

05: Steve Gibbs & Cyrus Reynolds – In Passing
Steve Gibbs was an unfamiliar name around these parts until these EP with London based composer Cyrus Reynolds popped up during the summer. Largely electronic and ambient driven, In Passing is terse but still beautifully rich in melody and layered with many different ideas. The only complaint that could be levelled against In Passing is that it’s far too short.

04: Refraction – Helixian
Returning from an absence after the release of 2011’s self-titled, Refraction released this brief new EP, Helixian that, while short, is still bustling with ideas, trying its hand at a couple of new things. These new things mostly come in the form of vocals. Though scant, they’ve added a whole new dimension to the band and while the self-titled didn’t cry out for the addition of vocals, standing very much on its own, Helixian’s heavily melodic compositions work a treat with vocals, showing up on the second and fourth tracks respectively.

03: A Pregnant Light – Domination Harmony
In the current game of one-man black metal acts with a swift and prolific turnover of releases, A Pregnant Light is certainly in the lead. Last year’s Death My Hanging Doorway topped this very list and this year Damian Master has released another selection of tapes that flirt with other genres, building on a firm foundation of black metal. Where the first tape, The Feast of Clipped Wings, meshed crusty flavours into the din, this EP injects more melody and a post-punk vibe to boot. His releases are typically short, none longer than 30 minutes, and he’s anything but short on ideas; it begs the question of what he could do with the space and freedom that an LP provides.

02: Fuck the Facts – Amer
Canadian grinders Fuck the Facts are usually rather prolific too but after the release of Die Miserable (arguably their best album) and its accompanying EP Misery in 2011, the band stayed pretty focused on just touring until this new EP popped up earlier this year. Amer, translating as bitter, lives up to its name with searing bitter diatribes of melodically tinged grind that’s fairly unmistakeable as Fuck the Facts.

01: Sisters of… – Follow Me as a Ghost
Sisters of… released this debut EP Follow Me as a Ghost in early 2013 but just recently it quickly made its presence felt, mostly due to a sudden purge in PR work behind it. It’s a shame it didn’t happen sooner as Sisters of… deserve many accolades for this EP. Largely instrumental, save for some sparse vocals, Follow Me as a Ghost occupies a similar vein to Cloudkicker and even Scale The Summit, with the focus on dense riffing complemented by airier ambient verses. At 38 minutes, it’s quite a heady dosage for an EP but passes by in a breeze.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Cynic track

Cynic have released the first track from their new record, Kindly Bent To Free Us. ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is streaming over on Guitar World right now.

Drummer Sean Reinert has described the album as a “bold new sound” for Cynic and ‘The Lion’s Roar’ certainly invokes some impressive sounds. While the band has stepped away more and more from metal since their reunion, the track opens with a nice crunchy guitar before blossoming into sounds more akin to last album Traced In Air, which seems to be a strong indication of where the new record is going.

Check out the track HERE.