Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Red and raw

crooked fingers - 'red devil dawn'

released: january 2003
merge records

1. big darkness 2. don't say a word 3. you can never leave 4. bad man coming 5. you threw a spark 6. boy with (100) hands 7. sweet marie 8. angelina 9. disappear 10. carrion doves

Some records are better enjoyed in a certain state of mind. Despite its consistent quality that has made 'Red Devil Dawn' a weekly revisited record of mine since its release in 2003, it's clearly an album for the brokenhearted. Not that Eric Bachmann's band (now performing solo, after an outrageously beautiful first album, 'To The Races') have ever been a bundle of laughs, but there's a strangely euphoric quality about this album's sadness, an almost resigned, contemplative weight of the spirit that can suddenly break into song for a little while just because a pretty bird passed overhead.

It's the storytelling that does it, too. Bachmann can sound deeply personal in his lyrics, going to the point of naming names (Angelina in, well, 'Angelina', Cary in 'Disappear'), but nevertheless all the stories manage to hit you straight through the heart. It's not an easy ride. There's loss, like in 'Don't Say A Word': There ain't no easy way to lose the heart you call your home, Bachmann's raspy but warm and honest voice softly proclaims over the acoustic background. There's the coming to terms with that loss and even finding redemption, like in the mentioned 'Disappear' and this shattering chorus: Cary don't cry I'm gonna disappear /And take this sorrow far away /So you can live your life /No need to ride through salt tracks of sad tears /There's beauty in an ugly thing /Redemption in demise. There are sad people, there are broken people and mistreated people, like the mysterious girl whom the boy with (100) hands tries to reach. There's even a bit of creepy menace in the oddly beautiful 'Bad Man Coming'.

None of this would matter if the music did not keep these moods, but it does so brilliantly.
Bachmann's voice is seemingly fragile and vulnerable but never goes past the breaking point and he delivers his lines with a rare emotional poignancy. You get the feeling that these sombre acoustic songs, with the occasional flourish like the Spanish feeling of 'You Threw A Spark' or the rocking 'Big Darkness', would get the messages across even without those lyrics.

Suitably enough, it ends with 'Carrion Doves', an elegant and elegiac song, apparently about someone hanging on a decision that could change the course of love. There are victims to be made / Decisions to be weighed / You're guilty now but in your heart / There soon could be a change.

Change your heart. Go get this record.

the good: almost palpable emotion, elegant heartbroken songs that remain with you for years
the bad: nothing, really, but stay away if you want something jolly to listen to on a sunny afternoon

song of the day:
'Boy With (100) Hands'

Sunday, October 14, 2007

hellenic horror

ravencult - 'temples of torment'

released: september 2007
dark essence records

1. the sigil of baphomet 2. in times of demise 3. onslaught command 4. blessed in heresy 5. commence the burning of heavens 6. the nightsky codex 7. utter cold void 8. the needles of truth

After a few more months of absence, nothing better to kick too.many.records. back to life than a bit of fucked-up black metal from hell, right? Well, it's not really hell, it's Greece, but don't let that little fact affect your judgement of Ravencult, because there is little Mediterranean-ness, or none at all, in their music. Unlike, say, Rotting Christ, to keep it in Greece, or Negură Bunget, to go a little bit up north to Romania, who are both living proof that black metal can jolly well have nothing to do with creepy Nordic woods, Ravencult have chosen not to wear their geographical origins on their sleeves. 'Temples Of Torment', their debut album, goes in the same direction that the couple of demos and the EP had gone already - which is the traditional orthodox BM sound.

Okay, so there are the foundations for a bit of bashing, right? Fortunately, this is one of those times when it's really cool to be wrong. There isn't anything revolutionary, or even mildly innovative, about 'Temples Of Torment', but sometimes we should remember that if something is well done, it doesn't have to necessarily break new ground all the time, or at all. When I say we, it's also a bit of self-criticism. We snobby reviewers are a bit obsessive about the originality thing, which at the end of the day is a good thing, because creativity should be valued above all things, but can also have perverse effects, like demeaning records that are pretty (or ugly, in this case!) conventional in form and/or concept, but are nevertheless quality releases that end up being played a lot even after we have scoffed at them about being "generic".

'Temples Of Torment' is a perfect example of that, as it is mostly following the footsteps of genre classics but it's also a blast anyway, exhaling a foul, evil atmosphere and providing diversity and meaty slabs of blasphemous brutality. The fact that important figures are involved in this album, like Knut Magne Valle (who played guitar for Arcturus and Ulver, for example) who produced the album and Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O))), Khanate) who did the cover art, lends a certain credibility to the band and might make a few more people take notice, but might also give misleading expectations. There is nothing experimental, melodic or lushly produced about 'Temples Of Torment' - sandwiched between the over-saturated samples of a church choir that open and close the album (similar to the one that precedes L'acephale's savage 'Book Of Lies'), you get no-frills, keyboard-free nasty black metal in the vein of Darkthrone or Bathory, except with a better sound and a few deviations into mid-tempo, like on 'In Times Of Demise, that work really well in terms of atmosphere.

Regardless of the speed, the aggression is vicious and constant, the bile reaching its high point on the hideously creepy 'The Nightsky Codex', a dissonant Aura Noir-like song that would be a serial killer hiding in the woods if it was magically turned into a person.

If you like your black metal raw and abrasive, while still maintaning musicianship and quality songwriting, Ravencult should be on your list of priorities.

the good: an example of how there's always life in a genre if things are done right, truly evil atmosphere
the bad: nevertheless, there isn't anything new here, or greek for that matter

song of the day:
'The Nightsky Codex'

Monday, May 07, 2007

2006 album of the year

tom waits - 'orphans - brawlers, bawlers and bastards''

The first thing that needs to be perfectly clear is that Tom Waits is the coolest man in the world. If you still need any evidence besides listening to his records, just go on youtube and look for a few live performances or interviews. Seriously, do. Few, if any, in the history of recorded music, have assumed so many roles and characters and musical personalities with the same elusive other-worldness, yet very deeply rooted to the world at the same time. Waits goes beyond the mere songwriter, or musician even. There is this aura about him that seemingly seems to turn every single artistic output from his part into something that truly matters. Whether he's the drunk loser singing his blues down at the local bar, the creepy carnival barker, the (anti-)religious prophet or the junkyard guy assembling new songs from discarded trash, or more yet, there is the unmistakable, unconventional, unique Tom Waits mark about it.

'Orphans' is where, for the first time, you can experience all of those in one thrilling, captivating sitting. The concept is perfect for Waits, and the title could not be more appropriate. From someone who has carved masterpieces out of little odds and ends of music, to have a collection of little musical orphans that have been almost lost along the way is incredibly fitting. Wipe from your mind any thought that these orphans are unwanted or inferior to the legitimate children, however. Throughout these 54 songs, 30 of them heard here for the first time, Waits performs some of his strongest material ever, both in terms of pure music worth and also emotionally speaking.

These orphans are divided into three discs, each of them with a theme. The first disc consists of the brawlers, ie, the most rocking, growling, bully-orhpans - closer to Waits' latest records, the period from 'Alice' and 'Blood Money' to his latest 'Real Gone'. While nothing is straightforward, the fat riffs on 'LowDown' or the oblique 'Rain On Me' will be instant favourites. It is typically hard to find highlights, but from this volume the unbelievable covers of the Ramones' 'The Return Of Jackie And Judy' and Leadbelly's 'Ain't Goin' Down To The Well', the dirty-souding Gospel of 'Lord I've Been Changed' and the rock-the-house-down of 'Fish In The Jailhouse' have to be mentioned. The most surprising moment, however, occurs with the 7-minute long 'Road To Peace'. The traditionally subtle Waits, politically speaking, delivers here a heart-breaking take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a profoundly human view of the daily horrors of war seen from both sides. It's not even a protest song, it's a sort of reality check that should make anyone with a heart sit up and think about things.

After the thrills of the brawlers, you can settle down a bit with the bawlers. The lame ballad disc in any other artist's collection, here you get Waits' bittersweetness in its full. He somehow manages to create rousing, soulful, emotional songs that never once even look in the direction of sap. Closer to what he has written in the 70s and early 80s but infused with his experimental tendencies of the last decade, the jazzy 'You Can Never Hold Back Spring', the pastoral feel of 'Widow's Grove' or the simply soaring full version of 'Down There By the Train' turn Waits back into the lonely troubadour whose piano has been drinking, not him.

The last set of orphans is the most opaque and also the most fascinating one. The bastards welcome into their fold everything that doesn't really fit anywhere else, the truer, purest odds and ends from the ultimate odds and ends man. Here you get Waits at his most innovative, and also at his most theatrical of moods. His totally inimitable storytelling actually makes a story feel like a song that you will listen to several times, from the spookiest, creepiest of stories like 'Army Ants' to the downright beautiful like 'Nirvana', he will make you wish that you could have him around to tell you a story every night, even if after a few of them you probably wouldn't sleep much. Some other noteworthy bastards are the apocalyptic 'Books of Moses', the insanity of his version of 'Heigh Ho' or 'Dog Door', a collaboration with Sparklehorse that sounds like a carousel ride gone very wrong.

All through this, nothing sounds out of place, or of less quality, or even like anyone else. Boxes like this are usually a summary of an artists' life, spanning entire careers of, more often than not, dead artists, physically or artistically speaking. Worse still, if they are outtakes or leftovers or b-sides, they're usually completist's material only, for people who simply must have everything a particular artist has put out. 'Orphans' is none of that. It can't begin to summarize Waits' career, if nothing else because his career is still expected to give us quite a lot, but also because that's not the point. What 'Orphans' does summarize is the immense genius and appeal of Waits' music. It takes the best elements of all he has done so far, with the ever-present dichotomy of classic-old and experimental-new in his songwriting, and creates another new, tremendously exciting step for the rest of us to admire.

More than the album of the year, 'Orphans' is three albums of the year rolled into one faultless, genius whole.

song of the day:
'Road to Peace'

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

top50 - #2

2. william elliott whitmore - 'song of the blackbird'

or from:

My excitement about this record was probably very noticeable back then when I talked about its predecessor 'Ashes To Dust' and urged everyone to keep an eye out for this one. See, I had reasons. What I think and feel about Will and his music is already quite apparent in that review, so I can spare you all the redundant praise and step straight into 'Song Of The Blackbird'.

If you have heard Will before (and if you haven't, by god, fix that pronto) you won't be too shocked by the beginning of the record, with his by-now familiar banjo strum introducing 'Dry'. However, as the song progresses, and later the album itself, some slight changes are apparent, namely the melodic richness of the vocals. Will has never been monochordic, but some of the songs here showing a range that's much wider than before.

(photo by Curtis Lehmkuhl)

One of the things I like to do with Will's songs is show them to people who have never heard of him, and then ask them to describe how they think will looks like. His deep, gravely, weary voice is hugely misleading - I have had many answers but none of them are remotely close to what he does look like. On an interview at the Southern Records website, William talks about his appreciation for Minor Threat or Public Enemy, and this is one of the things that sets him apart from the rest. Even though the songs on 'Song Of The Blackbird', like the ones on the two records before, are deeply imbued with the traditional spirit of the South, and still as stripped-down as before (voice, banjo, occasional percussion, and that's it), some almost-pop hooks (pop in the context of Will's songs, do not get me wrong here) are apparent now and then, which makes the record a curious meeting of traditional past and exciting present.

Will's storytelling abilities have also been improving impressively. His music has often compared to Johnny Cash for little reason other than journalistic laziness, but storytelling is the only real area where the two are really very comparable. Like Cash, Whitmore can write seemingly individual, character-based stories that can resonate deeply within anyone, regardless of the reader/listener ever having anything to do with railroad workers, inmates (Cash only, this one) or farmers, to name but a few members of both men's favoured cast. Stories become universal because their basic themes are universal.

At first glance, Will's songs seem to be centred around death, but they're not. Death is a backdrop, it is indeed very present but merely as a factor of life, and that is what is really celebrated here. It's not the weakness of the demise that is valued, it's the strength of the resistance to it, usually through love. The best example of will's outlook on life that he expresses through his songs is 'Take It On The Chin', where he proudly sings: he said life is a gamble and before you throw them dice, if it's more than you can handle please take this advice. He said stand your ground and don't back down, that's the only way to win. and when life throws a punch, son, you've got to take it on the chin.

With the possible exception of the forthcoming number one on my 2006 top list, William Elliott Whitmore is hands-down the best singer/songwriter in activity today.

song of the day:
'Take It On The Chin'

Monday, February 19, 2007

top50 - #3

3. negură bunget - 'om'

(review published on issue 33 of Unrestrained! magazine and slightly adjusted for too.many.records.)

Maybe in a few years we will have a better term for it than the rather hideous post-black metal, but there’s a wealth of activity brewing in the wake of the black metal’s heyday that is truly fascinating, with a few bands expanding on the orthodox black metal framework by incorporating other influences and concepts. Just as quick examples, there’s Blut Aus Nord, Anaal Nathrakh, Deathspell Omega and these rather mysterious romanians, Negură Bunget.

Having evolved wildly in the 10 years of their existence so far, never making the same record twice, they now seem to have reached a point of maturity of which 'Om' is the direct result: an ambitious piece which will surely lift them out of the hushed possible-big-thing-in-the-future semi-obscurity in which they have dwelled in the past few years. It’s not like the previous album, '‘N Crugu Bradului', a masterpiece of eerie darkness, was an accessible work, but 'Om' goes deeper into uncharted territory, adding melancholy and even psychedelia to the mix. Don’t be fooled by the term, or by these changes, though. 'Om' manages to create an even more suffocating environment than its predecessor. Forgive the cliché, but it does feel like you’re standing in the middle of a forest in the region of Transylvania from which Negură Bunget hail from. Except it’s not at night – it’s in daytime, with the pale rays of light coming through the few openings in the thick leaves, as if choked by them.

This light-and-dark contrast is a theme explored throughout the album, with piercing screams and harsh black metal distortion being juxtaposed with enveloping keyboards and some truly spooky clean vocals. The song 'Cunoaşterea Tăcută' is a good example of this, a slowly evolving epic that reaches almost unbearable intensity levels. You don’t just put on this record – you need to give it time and attention to absorb you, but when it does, it does it like precious few other records do.

'Om' is a part of a bigger spiritual concept created by the band and it would take several posts of this blog to go into it in depth, but suffice to say that after a few listens, a lot of bands in your discography will seem a bit cartoonish in comparison.

Much of the future of black metal in particular and extreme music as a whole resides here.

song of the day:
'Cunoasterea Tăcută'

top50 - #4

4. melvins - '(a) senile animal'

Ahh, the Melvins. The oddest, most left-field and utterly essential side-effect of the early 90s Seattle craze, who after all these years are still young (at heart), fresh and invigorating. King Buzzo and his cohorts always manage to do something exciting and new with every one of their albums, and they're not new to collaborations (take the unforgettable Fantômas + Melvins Big Band album), but this time the result is even better than their insanely good norm. Basically they incorporated a whole band into the Melvins fold, with the two members of the band Big Business, Jared Warren and Coady Willis. Now, these two guys are a bass player and a drummer. Since Dale is obviously still a Melvin, do the math - two drummers.

The two drummer idea isn't a new invention, although it's a rare attempt, and it could easily have been a meaningless gimmick. But come on, this is the Melvins. so one listen to '(A) Senile Animal' is enough to not only convince you, but to floor you completely. The weight and the rumble of this album is simply unbelievable. Play this through good speakers with a hefty subwoofer (seriously, do) and the low-end will probably register on the richter scale. King Buzzo was already the king of sludgy, dragged-out riffage, but with this kind of support behind him the result is stellar. The chugga-chugga of 'Blood Witch' or the jumpy rock-on of 'A History Of Drunks' are like Black Sabbath given a spit-polish, a shot of Alice In Chains and all revved up for 2007.

Yeah, Alice In Chains. For all is not bashing away in this album - the vocal harmonies and even the riffs themselves are insanely catchy and hummable, and soon you'll have the supreme pleasure of singing along with Buzzo as the songs whirlwind around you. With two drummers, it's possible to do all kinds of crazy time signatures and that helps the tempo tremendously - in '(A) Senile Animal', nothing is boring and everything flows, the album gets angry, calms down, then jokes a bit, then thrashes the place again. Everything sounds in place, songs belong next to each other. In these days of loose mp3 (like that one down there, ha), this is a proper album, created like one and meant to be heard like one.

It's a crime to say this, considering the absolute wealth of riches that the Melvins back-catalogue provides, but this is probably their most consistent and exhilarating album ever. Fuck The Darkness or Trivium or whatever else mainstream media has tried to push as rock these past few years - this is what proper rock sounds like.

An instant classic.

song of the day:
'A History Of Drunks'

Thursday, February 08, 2007

top50 - #5

5. solitude aeturnus - 'alone'

Solitude Aeturnus never really went away, but the amount of time since the release of the wonderfully bleak 'Adagio' left the most dedicated fans worrying. The band indeed took a break, but apparently splitting up was never in the cards, which should make any doom fan rejoice. Yet further rejoicing is in order as well, as 'Alone' shows that the time did them well.

Now that vocalist Rob Lowe has been selected as the new voice of Candlemass, and since he will keep his post in Solitude Aeturnus, proper and long overdue attention might start to be directed to this band. Few bands deserve it more - they have long been a steady, strong and reliable pillar of doom metal in particular and metal as a whole. 'Alone' is mesmerizing, right from the start, right before the music, even. Record cover of the year by a wide mile, the Travis Smith artwork describes the music with more accuracy than any reviewer ever will. Just like that tragically beautiful image, 'Alone' is true doom, through and through. It's heavy, it's dense and it's hypnotic.

Rob Lowe is the first and most obvious element of fascination here - he proves (as if any proof was needed if you have heard any of the albums in their discography...) that he's one of the most talented vocalists within any genre with this astounding performance. Both hopeful and hopeless, utterly bleak wails that suddenly break into luscious choruses that let some light in (like on the amazing 'Essence Of Black'), he is a frontman in every sense of the word. John Perez and Steve Moseley are responsible not only for the typically crushing, slow riffs, but also for some extra injections of power in the band's sound - check out the immense 'Sightless' or the frightening 'Burning'. Those songs are also the best example of how to use a rhythm section properly, James Martin's bass and Steve Nichol's drums resonating deeply in your chest. The production is very strong as well, carrying the weight these compositions need faultlessly.

Solitude Aeturnus is a band with very high standards, having maintained consistently high quality ever since their historical debut, so the fact that 'Alone' is their best work ever is even more of a feat. If you have any interest in dark, heavy music, you cannot pass this one up.

song of the day:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

top50 - #6

6. ed harcourt - 'the beautiful lie'

Ed's 2006 album was actually my very first review on too.many.records., and the choice was easy at the time, because it was the record permanently glued to my stereo. It was also, I thought, a good universal choice for a blog that I like to try to maintain eclectic, despite my general metallic leanings - there is something here for everyone, if you know where to look.

The person who introduced me to Ed in the first place has had a hard time getting to grips with what is, essentially, Ed's step into maturity. I fell in love with Ed for his sunny pop hooks and easy-going goodtimes, so I'm not sure if our relationship will take this latest change, she says, and that might be the biggest stumbling block to overcome when dealing with 'The Beautiful Lie'.

The hooks are there, as is still the boyish irreverence that I mentioned on my first review of this, but everything is a bit denser and slightly more sombre in places, so the sunny bits take their time to reveal themselves. When they do, however, they settle in for good. On one hand, you will melt at the endearing sweetness of 'Good Friends Are Hard To Find', and also find that it's impossible not to join in the thrilling chorus of 'Revolution In My Heart' or the demented carny that is the murder ballad 'Scatterbraine'.

Ed is trying to branch out. As you can guess from the last sentence of the previous paragraph, Nick Cave and Tom Waits are two big reference points. Not that 'The Beautiful Lie' sounds like them all that much. In fact, it sounds like Ed, which is the best thing that can be said about him at this point in his career (and let's not forget that the man isn't even 30 yet). His uncompromising posture, the approach to songs, to writing, and even to lyrics, show a very promising left-field-ness that could easily blossom into something very special indeed.

will you love me when i'm old / well, i'm still hoping i can get that far, Ed sings on opener 'Whirlwind In D Minor'.

Well, here's to hoping.

song of the day:
'Whirlwind In D Minor'

Thursday, February 01, 2007

top50 - #7

7. celtic frost - 'monotheist'

Tom Warrior (or his real name, which he uses nowadays, Thomas Gabriel Fischer) had a lot to lose here. Celtic Frost are a sacred name in metal history, one of the most essential bands of the 80s and pioneers in every way, responsible for the existence of much of the quality extreme music we hear today. They're so important that most fans have forgiven them for the unforgettably horrible sell-out that was 'Cold Lake'. Therefore, to reactivate a band like this after over a decade is a very risky move. The panorama is different, tastes are different, Tom and his other Celtic Frost half, Martin Eric Ain, are older and there's the ever-present 'you're doing it for the money!' accusation. So despite the name, there's no guarantee of quality, in fact, the name could weigh them down negatively.

Well, forget all that. 'Monotheist' is a staggering achievement. From the very first listen it is very clear that Fischer's soul is all over this album, as much of its darkness seems intensely personal. And there's plenty of darkness to go around here. Even though the opening one-two of 'Progeny' and 'Ground' pretty much picks up from 1985's 'To Mega Therion', with its doom-laden stomp, 'Monotheist' soon starts twisting itself into stranger, more obscure shapes. More than anything, Celtic Frost have gone down in history for their courage to take risks and innovate, and that tendency still remains. Third song 'A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh' is the first typical frost wtf? moment, with its gentle, vaguely foreboding start slowly building into a bleak, hopeless piece of nastiness, with such wild outside reference points such as Neurosis or even Xasthur. 'Drown In Ashes' follows this monolith, and introduces haunting female vocals to the mix. The rest of 'Monotheist' alternatively pounds you down with more bouts of heavy doom or freaks you out by metamorphosing into piercing blackness. The one prevalent theme throughout the album is its sinister feel. Never is 'Monotheist' comfortable, in a bad way, never is it conformist, never is it conventional.

As final confirmation of this triumphant return, if you had the luck of catching Celtic Frost live during the shows promoting this album, you will know that this is no strike of chance. The band is revitalized, hungry, alive and that much is obvious by the vortex that is a Celtic Frost concert, these new songs mingling perfectly with the timeless classics.

Celtic Frost's past is glorious, but the best compliment that can be paid to this new incarnation is that the present and the future seem to carry on that glory faultlessly.

song of the day:
'A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh'

Monday, January 29, 2007

top50 - #8

8. sunn o))) & boris - 'altar'

Before I even start on the difficult task of trying to describe what this record sounds like, it's worth it to mention that this is how a collaboration album should be done. Much like the Richard Buckner & Jon Langford record, except in an entirely different musical genre, 'Altar' is much more than the sound of the two bands fused together. It's not Sunn o)))'s drones with Boris 'hazy, slowly unveiling riffing. 'Altar' is the sound of two already essential bands bringing their talents together and creating something new, something that is much, much more from a mere sum of two parts.

As if the joining of these two titans of weirdness wasn't enough, some other heavyweights join the fun too. Most notable among the gang are Kim Thayil, former Soundgarden guitar player (so good to hear from him!), who contributes guitar on 'Blood Swamp', the mighty Joe Preston (Melvins, High On Fire, Earth), who is actually responsible for the two bands meeting, vocalizing 'Akuma No Kuma', and finally Jesse Sykes contributing vocals to the album's centerpiece, the dreamy, otherworldy ballad of sorts 'The Sinking Belle (Blue Ship)'. This song is like nothing you would expect from anyone, let alone these two bands. It's strangely beautiful, immense in the sense of space that it invokes, and it's also the most accessible piece of the album, serving as a sort of halfway-through lynchpin that holds all the other pieces together. Which is important, because each and every one of these 6 songs (7 if you're lucky enough to own the vinyl version) inhabits a totally separate headspace.

'Etna' is the perfect opener, slithering slowly inside your skin, with rumbling bass dominating the whole sound before a grandiose guitar kicks in and takes it to another level... until a screeching Boris riff lifts it again and paves the way for the bleakest song of the album, 'N.L.T.'. 'Akuma No Kuma' is the strangest song of the bunch, no mean feat, as it would be equally at home on a MikePatton album or on the soundtrack to the Katamari video game (check it out, you won't regret it!). 'Fried Eagle Mind' will indeed fry your mind with its droning if you put it too loud, and the scary 'Blood Swamp' rounds off proceedings with 14 minutes of noisy dread.

An effort of this magnitude has consequences - it will surely establish Sunn o))) for good as darlings of the indie circles, as they already are a bit, inexplicable as that might be, and it confirms Boris as a very hot prospect too, after years of obscurity, especially in the same year as the tremendous 'Pink'.

In a recent interview, Atsuo from Boris declared that this album might be the end of the drone genre, as this is possibly as far as it can be taken. Tongue-in-cheek as it might have been, I find myself almost agreeing with that.

song of the day:
'The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep)'

Friday, January 26, 2007

top50 - #9

9. deicide - 'the stench of redemption'

If you read me going on about it at the time, you know I was pretty excited when this came out, and I had good reasons to. Deicide had been for so many years a frustrating band, churning out okay records when you knew they had it in them to do so much more. The Hoffman brothers, talented guitarists as they are, were settled in an uncomfortable animosity with mainman Glen Benton, which obviously did not do wonders for band chemistry. Exit Hoffmans, enter Ralph Santolla and Jack Owen, and these two axemen gave Deicide new life. Or new death, in this case.

A fired up Glen Benton is not someone you want to fuck with, really. His mighty roar in the cute-titled 'Death To Jesus', or his quasi-black metal screeches on the thundering, scary 'Walk With The Devil In Dreams You Behold', show a man with a sense of purpose once again. Backed up by some of the more twisted, squealing guitarwork of the year and a constant, brutal battery, this is really as intense as it gets. The furious thrash of closer 'The Lord's Sedition' is a mouth-watering taster of what can still come next from Deicide, who suddently become one of the names to watch very closely once again.

The importance of 'The Stench Of Redemption' is immense for death metal itself. Apart from a few luminous exceptions, the genre as a whole has been suffering from an overall lack of truly classic releases in the past decade or so, and to have a blast of this caliber come from one of the big names should be an inspiration for both young and veteran bands.

'The Stench Of Redemption' was the most blasphemous piece of truly extreme music in many a month, and, while not forgetting Suffocation's thundering return, it was the best death metal album of the year.

song of the day:
'Walk With The Devil In Dreams You Behold'

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

top50 - #15 to #11

The last batch before the top 10, which will include a song from each album in .mp3 format.

11. amorphis - 'eclipse'
Also given the too.many.records. treatment several months ago when it came out, 'Eclipse' has been a huge grower, especially after seeing these songs played live and managing to sound even more engaging than the older classics. An astonishing interpretation of a Finnish traditional tale, 'Eclipse' is a rainbow of moods, expertly coloured by terrific keyboard work, traditional instrumentation and memorable guitar leads in that typical Amorphis tone. And the voice. Tomi Joutsen was an unbelievable find and it feels as if he's been in the band for years. Amorphis are currently in the studio recording the follow-up to 'Eclipse', and it they manage to top it, you can bet they'll be on this list next year again, but a few positions higher even.

12. jesu - 'silver'
As you might have noticed from my desperate attempts to convey what Jesu sound like, this isn't a band whose sound you can describe easily. To make matters harder (but so exciting, too) for the reviewer, Justin Broadrick's writing takes an almost caleidoscopic quality, with songs shapeshifting and twisting withing their grey-mood framework. This time the variation is more evident, with a song like 'Star' almost sounding like a shoegazing, depressed pop song, and 'Dead Eyes' going all electronic in a way that Trent Reznor must have often dreamed about. This is 'only' an EP, but who cares - 'Silver' is a staggering and entirely out-there work. Unmissable.

13. samiam - 'whatever's got you down'
It's so good to see this vastly underrated band return. One of the best indie rock/punk bands of the 90s, they never got one fraction of the recognition they deserve, putting out brilliant album after brilliant album, with the 'You Are Freaking Me Out' 1997 release their top highlight. If you don't know them, hunt back for those albums and you'll know where the Alkaline Trio, Hot Water Music and other similar bands came from. After 2000's 'Astray', they took a rest for a couple of years, during which their loyal fans feared the worst, but 6 years later here they are, and seem ready to get the ball rolling again, in style. They have intelligently avoided to directly continue their old style, opting instead for a more direct, rawer approach (check out Jason's vocals on 'When We're Together'!), which actually suits them very well. With no hint of the sugary, sickly emo-ness that ruins other melodic punk bands, Samiam come across as very real - a few likeable real guys singing about real things. Welcome back.

14. the black heart procession - 'the spell'
Looking back on my review of it a few months ago, all I can say is that 'The Spell' has gotten even better in these five months that have passed since. The eerie creepiness is counterpointed by beautiful, lush, slowly-developing melodies and makes this a very replayable album, even more so when you begin knowing all its twists and turns by heart. You'll feel either in a haunted cabaret or a melancholic graveyard, often in the same song, and you'll love every minute of it.

15. transmission0 - 'memory of a dream'
One of the biggest surprises of the year. A rather unknown Dutch band, with only a rather straightforward hardcore-ish album to their name, on a small New York punk label, wouldn't be your first bet to put out a sprawling Neurosis-like opus, but that's exactly what Dave Van Beek and friends did with 'Memory Of A Dream'. It sounds just like its artwork suggests - a night out in dark and choppy seas, frightening and intense, but as the artwork also suggests, otherwordly and strangely welcoming. Transmission0 are the latest competitor in the ever-growing Neurosis/Isis arena, but they're much better and much more innovative than most. Unusually mature and distinctive for such a young band, Transmission0 are more than a promise already, and their potential is huge.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

top50 - #20 to #16

16. enslaved - 'ruun'
The towering expectations that previous album 'Isa' created could have been a problem, but not so with Enslaved. their progression seems unstoppable and 'Ruun' is, incredibly, another major step forward in the refining of their by now trademark sound. Enslaved have that rare ability to keep adding elements to their music, which started out in the early 90s as high quality but nevertheless rather straightforward viking black metal. These additions don't just augment their compositions, they seemingly fuse together, creating an immense soundscape to which you'll be irresistibly drawn to. Closer to Neurosis than to black metal as such these days in their all-encompassing scope, on 'Ruun' Enslaved give you roars, rasps and clean vocals, furious riffing and atmospheric passages, orchestral elements and straight-ahead intensity, progressive influences, middle eastern-sounding melodies and tons of standing-on-windswept-cliffs moments. Not so much pushing the envelope as bursting it, Enslaved are one of the most shining examples of creativity and innovation in unconventional music today.

17. iron maiden - 'a matter of life and death'
So 'Brave New World' and 'Dance Of Death' were okay and the live shows have been fantastic as ever, but this is what we were waiting for ever since Bruce re-joined Maiden. A complex, mature and surprisingly deep album, it's so chock-full of potential classics (like the long epics 'These Colours Don't Run' or 'Brighter Than A Thousand Suns') that the boys have taken the risky decision of playing it in its entirety on the subsequent tour. Introducing a dark and brooding side to the band that hadn't been seen for a long time, if ever, 'A Matter Of Life And Death' is the sound of a band at its peak. Keeping in mind that Maiden is nearing their 30th anniversary, this is a remarkable and unique achievement.

18. i - 'between two worlds'
As if getting Immortal back together wasn't enough, Abbath decided to shed the makeup and rock out like there's no tomorrow. Employing the talents of some other known Norwegian musicians (including original Immortal drummer Armagedda), Abbath managed an unlikely combination - maintaining the glacial iciness of his usual immortal compositions, but injecting it with mighty doses of pure rock'n'roll, in the true spirit of Motörhead and Kiss. Odd as it sounds, it works like a charm and provides plenty of possibilities for original sounding songs based on very well known inspirations. From the charging 'The Storm I Ride' to the Bathory homage of 'Far Beyond The Quiet', 'Between Two Worlds' is one of the most exhilarating musical experiences of the year.

19. gorgoroth - 'ad majorem sathanas gloriam'
Already reviewed in these pages, this nasty piece of black work has withstood the passing of the several months since its release, and it remains firmly in rotation when I feel like some evil. The inhuman battery (courtesy of the mighty Frost), the monstrous vocal assault and the buzzsaw guitarwork all combine to exhale an atmosphere of abject fear that few other releases have been able to match, and which puts Gorgoroth very near the top of the black metal hierarchy. If the devil has an iPod, you can bet 'Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam' is on his every playlist.

20. amon amarth - 'with oden on our side'
The torch of viking metal, first lit by Bathory and kept alive by countless other bands, has a major carrier these days - Amon Amarth. These Swedes have been perfecting their typical sound for over a decade now, always avoiding the pitfalls of over-cheesiness and repetition, always going for stronger and more ambitious albums. 'With Oden On Our Side' is no exception and it represents the band's best work so far. Crushing opener 'Valhall Awaits Me' lays to waste any fears that the band would over-use the mid-paced tempo they had employed on 'Fate Of Norns' - it storms out of the gates pounding you as if it was Thor's own hammer Mjolnir bashing your head in. Not only heavy as a really heavy thing, it's also an inspiringly epic song and will undoubtedly raise many a fist in a live setting. From then on, they never look back and embark on a journey replete with intensity, majesty and even the odd bit of beauty now and then ('Under The Northern Star'). Get your horned helmet ready.