Saturday, October 10, 2009

Best of 2008 - #55 to #51

55. the gutter twins - 'saturnalia'
Mark Lanegan doesn't really move anymore on stage, but he doesn't need to - his voice does all the moving he needs. While his solo records have been nothing short of magical, it's been a while (since 1996, to be precise, with 'Dust', the last album of the Screaming Tree) since we've heard him rock out a bit. It took Greg Dulli, the other gutter twin, to get him back on that track again, and we should thank him. Actually, Dulli isn't really the "other", as he seems to be the main driving force in the band, and shows up in style as well with marvellous guitar lines and a strong voice that fits well with Lanegan's low and sexy croon. It all just clicks - 'Saturnalia' is remarkable album, full of melodies, groove and personality, sounding like old time rock without being outdated in the slightest.

54. withered - 'folie circulaire'
There's black metal, there's death metal, there's even a bit of grind (Barney from Napalm Death's unmistakable bark shows up at one point!), and not one second of it sounds forced our out of place. That's 'Folie Circulaire', an almost unbearably intense yet extremely atmospheric blast of extreme music's best bits, mean, agressive and focused. Most of all, it's the thick dark fog that seems to envelop every song (including the very appropriate Necrophobic closing cover) that gives the album its identity and its running thread, not to mention that overpowering menacing air.

53. zozobra - 'bird of prey'
The name Caleb Scofield might be familiar to the more sludge and post metal-minded among you, having been in Cave In and Old Man Gloom, and while he surrounds himself with a few notable people (Aaron Harris, Stephen Brodsky, Adam McGrath) on this, Zozobra's second album, it's very clear that he is the man here, and that he's acquiring a very interesting musical personality. 'Bird Of Prey' is a much more accomplished effort than 2007's 'Harmonic Tremors', with all the Old Man Gloom-like suffocating weight that you'd expect from such a band but with a notable improvement in the songwriting. Thick, black grooves permeate the gruff screaming and monstrous dense riffs, making songs like 'Heartless Enemy' or 'Sharks That Circle' stand out among the current throng of young sludge bands trying to be Neurosis. Bodes very well, this does.

52. menace ruine - 'cult of ruins'
One of two albums released by Menace Ruine last year, 'Cult Of Ruins', the first to come out, is actually the hardest to talk about, given the stratospheric heights attained by the other one... expect to find it higher (much higher) on this list, incidentally. Which is a bit unfair, really, since it has more than enough merits to stand on its own and earn this position in the list - more aggressive and raw that 'The Die Is Cast' (such is the name of the other beast), it already contains that eerie and undescribable atmosphere and labyrinthine songwriting that has made this band one of my recent favourites. Sort of picking up the spirit of The Angelic Process, also being a couple duo from Canada and engaging in similar, in spirit at least, exercises with feedback, atmosphere and texture, Menace Ruine nevertheless show a darker aesthetic, closer to black metal, a colder industrial feel and a greater willingness to let it rip in the noisier sections. 'Cult Of Ruins' is a long and rewarding journey that got a very swift continuation - keep your eyes on the list for more, even if you might have to wait for the top 10...

51. the firstborn - 'the noble search'
Finally realizing the potential they have always had, also with, at long last, a sound that makes them justice, Portugal's The Firstborn delivered the very best album of their career by a long mile in 2008. Still on the path of Buddhism, approaching some of its ideas from interesting angles, making apt (read - not going apeshit with them and remembering they're still a metal band) use of instruments like sitar, The Firstborn's greatest achievement is nevertheless in the songwriting department, where they don't live or die strictly by Bruno Fernandes' powerful and unique voice anymore - there are meaty riffs and some tremendous guitarwork that will stick with you, not to mention almighty choruses like on 'Flesh To The Crows' or 'Water Transformation', where the talent of Bruno is evident. As if that wasn't enough, Hugo Santos from Process Of Guilt shows up to roar like only himself can on a couple of songs. Best Portuguese album of 2008, no doubt.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #60 to #56

A bunch more, before it's 2010 and I have another fucking list to spew forth.

Oh, and screw the song links too. Let me know if you really really want those to return, but hey - you guys will download the whole thing anyway if you fancy it, cheap bastards you all are, so.

Let's just hope you then go and buy the ones you really like.

60. outlaw order - 'dragging down the enforcer'
Jokingly known as EyeHateJimmy by the band members themselves, and it's easy to understand why, because Outlaw Order consists of all the members of EyeHateGod (plus Pat Brouders now, on bass, he plays for Crowbar too) minus Jimmy Bower, who is often busy on tour with NOLA supergroup Down. If you got past this typical New Orleans crossbreeding with no confusion, then the obvious point should have remained with you - GO GET THIS ALBUM. Ruthlessly confrontational, single-mindedly focused on the band members' much discussed problems with the law, with Mike Williams' trademark twisted lyrics and vocals, Outlaw Order is like a faster, more concrete version of EyeHateGod, and that should be all the recommendation you need.

59. made out of babies - 'the ruiner'
I must admit I got this album banged into my subconscious by my wife's incessant playing of it, but if it did find the way there, then it's because it has its worth. And quite a bit of it, too. Never having been all that much of a fan of Julie Christmas' other musings, be it previous Made Out Of Babies albums or what she did with Battle Of Mice, 'The Ruiner' was where it all clicked for me. Not only does it burst all those into insignificance with its razor-sharp writing and playing, much more to-the-point than before, it also shows Julie in the vocal form of her life. Finally focusing the uncanny talent of her voice properly, it lends the songs that extra dimension they seemd to lack before. Take opener 'Cooker' for the perfect example, equally expansive and hatefully restrained, it's an explosion of great guitarwork, memorable songwriting and that voice. A solid and consistent album that finally realizes the potential of Made Out Of Babies.

58. lords - 'fuck all y'all mother fuckers'
Title says it all, really. Lords are back, they sound just they did on 'Swords' and you'd better fucking love it or Chris Owens will probably kick your ass, as he does frequently to people during the average 364 days of the year that they spend touring. Unhinged, out-of-control noisy punk-fueled chaos is what they do, and it rocks. What's even more amazing is the fact that despite that whole don't give a fuck attitude and with songs like 'This Is Not A Song, Dumb Ass' (and it isn't, but it's cool anyway) and 'Why I Don't Give A Fuck', they don't come across as some sort of joke or crazy just for the sake of it band. They rock hard, they rock mean, and they rule.

57. khold - 'Hundre år Gammal'
Proof that it's still possible to do a kick-ass, hateful black metal album in 2009 without reinventing the damn pentagram, and it wasn't even so predictable that Khold's main man Gard would be able to produce this sort of thing. Very far from being a minor band in terms of quality, Khold's previous albums haven't, however, always come up with the goods consistently, 'Masterpiss Of Pain' really stands out as something that neither 'Krek' or 'Phantom' were able to surpass. Well, this bile-fueled little thing just managed to surpass them all at once, by combining everything that was great about each one of them. More than being raw, it feels raw, with Gard's voice the main instrument in creating that feeling, spitting out his Norwegian lyrics with such force that you can almost understand them regardless of whether you understand the language or not. However, soundwise, it's hardly Darkthrone we're talking about, the guitars are satisfyingly thick and the riffs buzz through you with the strength of a sledgehammer, as every song sticks, without the need for any filler or indeed any frills. With Satyricon going further and further down the road to boring town, this is what we need - stripped to the bone, dark and potent black metal like we someimes feel they don't do it anymore.

56. decrepit spectre - 'coal black hearses'
Behind that rather silly band name hide the mighty figures of Kvohst (Dødheimsgard, code), Aort (code, Blutvial), Heimoth and Cyriex (both from Seth), so don't fuck with them. It's only a three track EP, but it's extremely promising - if code is too out there for you, go listen to them a few dozen times more, because they're awesome and you're missing out. But while your brain can't cope, try this. Somewhat similar to the Khold album I just talked about above, it's meaty, well-produced black metal, stomping in its mid-pace fury, but unlike Khold it also creates that eerie and discordant atmosphere that these musicians are renowned for in the other bands they're a part of, except without that layer of avantgarde-ism that we've come to expect. A short piece of gloomy horror that paves the way for a proper debut full-length that is coming shortly. Watch this dark space.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #65 to #61

65. general lee - 'hannibal ad portas'
One of my best personal discoveries of 2008, General Lee are a French sludge band that already have a few years of experience, despite 'Hannibal Ad Portas' being their debut album. Like it used to be, you know, when you didn't just post a generic deathcore song on your MySpace and got a record deal out of that. Anyway, it's an album that shows its maturity, developing lengthy songs (six of 'em in 45 minutes) with mastery and entirely appropriate movements, rather than just pasting together bits just for the sake of having long songs. A song like 'Drifting' maintains a real identity through its hills and valleys, impressing both for the dragged-out heaviness of its angrier parts and also for the solid melodic richness of the quieter moments. All this potential surely means that we might be seeing General Lee on more of these end of year lists in the future.

General Lee - 'Drifting'

64. mourning beloveth - 'a disease for the ages'
This sort of doom/death has evolved very little, as a genre, since its first steps in the beginning of the 90s, and that's usually the biggest criticism when yet another new band shows up with another dynamics-less hour-long album of true melancholic misery or something of the sort. However, as in every genre, there's a handful of bands that still keep it alive, not by "evolving" beyond recognition, but simply by applying undeniable quality to everything they do. Irish gang Mourning Beloveth have been at it since 1996, and while you know what to expect of them by now, it is nevertheless always good to receive a new album. The desolate riffs and suffocating heaviness of the slow songs are utterly devoid of any hope, but there is fragile beauty and sensitivity enough (not to mention the acquired taste that is Frank Brennan's back-up clean vocals) to not take it into funeral doom territory. Above all, there is a grittiness, a down-to-eart approach and lack of "woe is me" melodrama to this band that makes you believe everything they sing about, and that is really all the difference.

Mourning Beloveth - 'Trace Decay'

63. north - 'what you were'
North are from Phoenix, and they were threatening to become yet one more instrumental post-rock band with their debut 'Ruins'. The concept seemed cool when Explosions In The Sky and other people first showed up, but it's suffering from an acute case of overcrowding right now, and 'Ruins' didn't really offer anything revolutionary to allow it to jump out of the shelves at you. Next step for North? Meander a bit more in instrumental forgetfulness? Hell no! The quintet cranked up the noise and hired Kyle Hardy to scream like there was no tomorrow, and the result was 'What You Were'. Beard metal at its best, muddy and charging, with enough remnants of their previous post-whatever melodic awareness to make these songs more than just mere exercises in screaming. A huge upgrade for a band that is now very promising, and a case study on how to evolve properly.

North - 'Ghosts Among Us'

62. the devil and the sea - 'heart vs. spine'
Yet another kick-ass debut album! What was it with 2008? Did everyone collectively decide to start a cool band, all of a sudden? Check out that opener, 'Batwing' (right now if you must, it's just below this text) - if that beginning doesn't smash your head in, check your pulse. Way to start a recording career! Plus, when you think you've got The Devil And The Sea all figured out, they throw some curveballs at you, slowing everything down to a massive doom groove, unpleasant and confrontational. The overall feeling is close to that of a band like 16, or even Tombs in the more extreme moments. There's that same sense of gritty reality, of street smarts and of a very real haze of violence that you get from such bands. Throughout the album, those curveballs keep coming, and you get bits of ambient drone, occasional post-metal detours and even some angry noise-rock. All of those rest on the very heart of 'Heart Vs. Spine' - the repetition of finely tuned, lived-in gigantic riffs, menacing, foreboding and fucking awesome.

The Devil And The Sea - 'Batwing'

61. playing enemy - 'my life as the villain'
The unavoidable importance of all the bands in which Playing Enemy's members have played should speak for itself - Rorschach, Deadguy, Nineironspitfire and the colossal Kiss It Goodbye have pretty much shaped a genre of sorts that is now being plundered with the commercial success that none of those have ever had by bands like Norma Jean, August Burns Red or Every Time I Die. Success they may have, but they lack the roughness, the soul and the edge that made all those bands so important, along with Playing Enemy. Unfortunatly, apart from their awesomeness, they also all have one common denominator - none of them last long, and 'My Life As The Villain' was the collection of the final songs that Playing Enemy ever recorded. More musical than the previous EPs, which edged dangerously close to noise territory, the guitarwork nevertheless still feels full of bile and angry suffering, perpetually releasing accumulated tension and frustration. The drumming is precise and much less hazy than the rest of the sound, working like an anchor and pounding away merciless rhythms. Playing Enemy will probably fade into general obscurity like all those bands mentioned in the first paragraph, but at least the small cult following that remains know that we're all in on a big secret.

Playing Enemy - 'Applause And Abuse'

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #70 to #66

70. warrel dane - 'praises to the war machine'
Joined by former (at the time, since he's now re-joined the band) Soilwork songwriter Peter Wichers on guitar, Nevermore's frontman put out, with this unlikely pairing, a surprisingly good solo album. More than just quenching the thirst for new Nevermore material, most of the songs on 'Praises To The War Machine' are very much Dane's work, with a separate identity from his main band. Of course, some of it will sound like Nevermore, which would be unavoidable, but overall it's commendable how Dane avoids any obvious references or clichés. With some of the more aggressive moments hitting that rather epic Nevermore quality, like opener 'When We Pray' and its unforgettable chorus or 'The Day The Rats Went To War', it's on the album's quieter but also darker moments that the real gems are to be found. Much more personal than a Nevermore album could ever be, 'Brother', 'August' or 'This Old Man' offer an insight into Warrel Dane like we've never had before, and they are moving, passionate and utterly bleak songs, beautiful without being ballads and with a tremendous impact without being brutal. The icing on the cake are the two covers, Simon & Garfunkel's 'Patterns' and The Sisters Of Mercy's 'Lucretia My Reflection', especially this latter one - although they are rather unnecessary to the flowing of the record, they show the full range of Dane's interpretative powers.

Warrel Dane - 'Brother'

69. torche - 'meanderthal'
Almost universally hailed, 'Meanderthal' is the album that really put Torche on the map, and right from the first listen it's easy to understand why. While maintaining their sludge/doom framework, Torche have meandered (sorry) into a middle-ground territory - the almost pop sensibilities of the melodic hooks, that warm and fuzzy guitar tone and the absolute catchiness of all the material, from the most scorching to the slower stuff, all of them beg to be heard by a much wider audience than what seemed to be reserved for Torche based on their previous work. With riffs to die for ('Across The Shields', 'Speed Of The Nail'), ton-heavy sludgers ('Sandstorm') and exhilirating rock-outs ('Fat Waves'), the closest reference point for Torche is actually Kyuss, these days. That's not a band to throw around lightly, and in this case it's perfectly justified.

Torche - 'Speed Of The Nail'

68. they are cowards - 'demo'
It's only a demo, but it's disgustingly heavy so it gets in the list with all the social grace of a homeless wino, pushing around all the other records until it lands in its place smelling of stale piss. Made up by three former members of Atavist and ex-RedRightHand guitarist Robbo, this Manchester foursome take everything that's ugly about Iron Monkey, Khanate or indeed Atavist themselves and join it into one freewheelin', aggressive and provocative whole. Fat grooves and bruising attitude abound, and promise a whole deal for what's coming next. Which, apparently, is a split with Black Sun. Satan help us all.

Get it free from their website!

67. amenra - 'mass iiii'
Maybe their concert at Roadburn will help Amenra build the following that they would so richly deserve, based on every gargantuan record they've put out so far - 'Mass IIII' is no exception. Relentless and hurtful while still allowing space and time for darkly atmospheric moments, with colossal dynamics that make you feel like someone who's been punching your face in has just allowed you to get some air for a few seconds before resuming the activity and, above all, with the overwhelming sluge hiding painfully beautiful underlying melodies, this Belgian troupe have really done it again with this album. Ignore them at your own peril!

Amenra - 'Razoreater'

66. genghis tron - 'board up the house'
Electro-grind, eh? A few attempts have been made before by a few rather unknown bands, but Genghis Tron really do step up that surreal genre notion to a seemingly unbeatable degree. All kinds of bleeps and scratches and even some beats hover around an insane orgy of mathcore/grind craziness. Go see some photos of how these guys look (I mean, really.) and you can picture them holed up in their bedrooms, fiddling with their laptops for hours until they come up with this stuff. However it is they do, the fact is that it slays and will probably be the starting point for a deluge of copycat "cybergrind" bands all wanting to make a similar kind of hellish racket like this.

Genghis Tron - 'City On A Hill'