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.

Monday, January 22, 2007

top50 - #25 to #21

21. agalloch - 'ashes against the grain'
One of the most important and unclassifiable bands in the United States right now, Agalloch continue to define their own sound while striding confidently into the pantheon of the great unclassifiables of every genre, like Neurosis or Mogwai or even Godspeed You Black Emperor!. What makes every Agalloch release increasingly essential is not a specific, look-this-is-it factor. it is the sheer scale that their intricate compositions hold within themselves. Steer well clear if you want immediate music - 'Ashes Against The Grain' will start to click around the 15 or so listens, but when it does, each and every song will feel like an entire universe where you can explore and discover new details every day.

22. ljå - 'til avsky for livet'
It is unusual, at least in my lists, for an album that has a very low level of originality to be placed this high. 'Til Avsky For Livet' doesn't have many things that haven't been done before similarly, at least superficially, but it is so well written and performed that the sheer amount of quality has turned it into one of the most powerful albums of the year in the black metal front. Cold, raw and utterly grim, it injects, a bit like countrymen Taake, almost subconscious melodies that you find yourself humming after the shrieking carnage is over. Equal parts Gorgoroth, for the intensity and underlying menace, and (old) Ulver, for unpredictability and variation, Ljå position themselves as a band to follow with very close attention in the future. Oh, and don't be fooled by those acoustic guitars on the last song. A quiet outro it most definitely turns out not to be...

23. johnny cash - 'american v: a hundred highways'
The final farewell from one of the most iconic musical figures of the 20th century. 'American V' is constituted by the songs that the man in black recorded in the final days of his life, when music was almost all he had left to live for. The most stripped-down album of his career, it doesn't even have the rock covers that made Johnny famous for a whole new generation with his American Recordings albums. A few Cash songs, a few discreet covers, and that's it. Until its magic starts working on you. Maybe surprisingly, it's not a dark or angry record, and it's not even depressing. The age and the illness show, yes, and the voice falters every now and then, but that only makes the contrast to the more booming moments more intense. The album is, more than anything, a window into the soul of a man accepting his mortality, the end of his path, with dignity and class.

24. she said destroy - 'time like vines'
An extremely mouth-watering debut from these Norwegians - 'Time Like Vines' sways, swings and bashes its way through nine of the most agile, versatile and explosive modern metal you can expect to hear. Take a song like 'Shapeshifter', which does just that, shapeshifting through slow-burning brooding and speeding passages of incredible intensity. The drum patterns alone are twistingly complex enough for them to be object of study at a math class. This is a surprising album, veteran-sounding and consistent, that just keeps throwing curveballs at you, with its jazzed-up everything-metal, razor-sharp melodies and above all immense style. 'Armageddon, Anyone?' might be the coolest song title of the year.

25. borknagar - 'origin'
Borknagar aren't exactly the most conformist or predictable of bands, but on their last few releases they had settled for a kind of symphonic black metal style of very high quality, not to mention very suitable for the characteristics of the musicians in the band. Well, 'Origin' is nothing like that. In a way, it represents a sort of respite for this band, and a turning point that will surely open many creative doors in the future. Entirely acoustic, with extra instrumentation in the form of cello and violin among others, it delves into the roots of folk music, with added touches of 70s symphonic prog rock. Think Opeth's 'Damnation' set in the middle of a norwegian forest. Written and played with a disarming simplicity, these songs are sensitive, beautiful and also extremely powerful. And if you still think black metal has no melody, check out the remake of 'Oceans Rise' off their second album. A serene, quiet masterpiece.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

top50 - #30 to #26

26. tool - '10,000 days'
Epitomizing the 'progressive' tag while avoiding what bands-who-really-want-to-be 'progressive' do, Tool just keep evolving, mutating, rooting themselves deeper. They progress, in fact. No need here to indulge in pointless 15-minute songs that could easily have been written for 5 and do note scale acrobatics. Tool's music is deep and complex, and at the same time incredibly primal and intuitive - it has the ability to move you at whatever level you choose to take it. At times retrospective ('Vicarious' as a 'Stinkfist' for the new generation), at times introspective and challenging (the two 'Wings' songs), '10,000' days, like the band itself, is always interesting, always exciting and it always matters.

27. krux - 'krux ii'
The great Leif Edling, doom grandfather extraordinaire, probably seeking a bit of rest from the current problems of Candlemass, re-activated his other band in 2006 to present every doom aficionado with a true modern classic of the genre. 'Krux II' sounds ancient and modern at the same time - this album is clearly the product of matured, experienced, classic songwriting talent, but the fire and the passion with which it's played feels like it's being played by a bunch of hungry newcomers. The riffs pile on, thick and dense but also rocking while Mats Levén howls his heart out and proves himself as one of the best vocalists around in the process. When someone asks you what doom is, put 'Krux II' on. And when it reaches the third song, the gargantuan 'Sea Of Doom', tell them that's not only doom, that's doooooooom.

28. red sparowes - 'every red heart shines towards the red sun'
Unbelievably, especially if you think of the utter desert of ideas in the instrumental rock/metal field just a few years back, it's a genre growing into the next big thing. Suddenly a lot of people have realized that applying Neurosis atmospherics together with metallized Slint-like dynamics and shutting up the vocalist sounds really really great. The best thing is that in most cases it does, and the most fascinating case (also probably the one most responsible for this wave) is RedSparowes. This sophomore album is not a huge departure from the genre in general or from their debut in particular, but it is still an evolution, especially in scope. 'Every Red Heart...' sounds huge, not only in the soaring expansive parts but also in the more introspective, emotional parts. When it ends, a vocalist will be the furthest thing from your mind.

29. the haunted - 'the dead eye'
Probably realizing that they (or anyone else, for that matter) could never out-thrash the bone-crushing urgency of their 1997 self-titled debut, The Haunted, fortunately reunited with their original frontman Peter Dolving, embarked on something new with 'The Dead Eye'. The first few songs are conventional enough (for The Haunted standards), but soon the record starts to mutate into something much more interesting. From 'The Reflection' and its Tool (more on them in a bit) feel to the near-doom of 'The Medusa', The Haunted create a thick miasma that is both creepy and brutal. Dolving's voice is much too versatile for him to shout all the time, and he finally uses that versatility to spine-chilling effect, with singing, screaming and speaking all being used. All this while the Björler/Jensen pair riff dissonantly away like Coivod-on-steroids. If they keep this up, brace yourselves for the next one!

30. stuart a. staples - 'leaving songs'
As it is usual in this kind of situation, the Tindersticks vocalist's first foray into solo waters had a shadow of doubt cast over it. Could Stuart shake off enough of his band's influence and produce his own work, able to stand on its own and not on past indie glories of its creator? The answer is, fortunately, a very vocal yes. Given the minimalism of the Tindersticks, it's hard for solo-Stuart to totally escape sounding a bit like them, but these melancholic, heartbroken songs have enough of a hushed country influence coupled with a few Al Green-isms to become fully-formed individual entities. A remarkable singer-songwriter album.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

top50 - round two!

31. m.ward - 'post-war'
The constant M.Ward metamorphosis continues. This man can easily sing from either 1906 or 2006, always with the same passion, the same subtlety and the same relevance. On 'Post-War' he has fast-forwarded a bit in time from 'Transistor Radio' (who made my list last year too) while still maintaining a traditional bluesy folk ambiance, making this record comparable to both Neil Young's latest and Springsteen's Seeger Sessions up there. Above all, Matt is a prodigious musical talent. Check out the song 'Chinese Translation' for the most clear piece of evidence.

32. stolen babies - 'there be squabbles ahead'
The End Records seems to be a safe haven for the oddball bands that don't really fit anywhere these days, and its output in 2006 has been of an unusual standard of quality. From Unexpect to Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (both previously mentioned on this list) to Estradasphere (who barely just missed it), and the best of all, Stolen Babies. Your head hurts just trying to categorize it. There is a guitar, yes, but that's where the rock conventionality ends. Then you have an abandoned music shop from the 19th century - accordion, glockenspiel, mandolin, tuba, trumpet, you name it. The songs plink-plonk their way along some demented circus ride, giving exactly the feeling that the album cover suggests, the demonic/childish killer-clown mood that fits strange music so well. Dominique Persi's voice is the glue that holds everything together - a highly versatile voice, she can shriek, croon, whisper, speak and creep out just about anything you can ask her. Creepy, creative and enormous fun, you can't miss this record.

33. darkthrone - 'the cult is alive'
A lot of people still haven't gotten the Darkthrone joke, and this album must annoy the hell out of them, all the tr00 kvlt obsessives. A song like 'Graveyard Slut', with its dirty Motörhead groove, suggests that they're taking the piss - and they are. As, if you've been paying attention, they've always been. That's the (ugly) beauty of Darkthrone - they take themselves only reasonably seriously, and this fuck-it spirit should be the true black metal spirit. 'The Cult Is Alive' is one massive, blasphemous and noisy rock-out, and anyone with an interest in extreme music should love it.

34. bruce springsteen - 'we shall overcome: the seeger sessions'
Armed only with a bunch of traditional and folk songs, as they were performed by folk icon Pete Seeger, Springsteen invited a bunch of NYC musicians and their traditional instruments to his country house for a few days, where the tape was rolling freely. The spontaneity and the joy that shines through this musician collective makes the result one of the best homages to folk music in recent memory. It’s also amazing how most of these protest songs are still very relevant today, like the Irish ballad ‘Mrs. McGrath’, in which Springsteen alters a lyric to read I'd rather have my son as he used to be/than the king of America and his whole navy, mirroring his well-known feelings towards his country's government. The rest of the album goes from the beautiful to the frantic, never wavering in quality. Raise your voices with him - we shall overcome indeed.

35. ron sexsmith - 'time being'
Ron is a mystery to me, because he has everything one could want from a musician in his genre, and yet he remains in semi-obscurity. A model for any aspiring singer-songwriter, his songs have beauty, melancholy, character, variety and most of all they show immense honesty, as if the man is really pouring his heart out to you in every one of them. 'Time Being' is yet another brilliant chapter in the Canadian's career, slightly more sombre than his previous records but with a songwriting maturity that borders on the brilliant. 'Snow Angel' is one of the saddest and most beautiful songs of the year.

36. isis - 'in the absence of truth'
Having basically taken the Neurosis blueprint and added different atmospheres to it, Isis have become more or less the face of the current post-rock boom. Therefore, a lot of people have been exposed to them, and ever since 'Celestial' there have been the usual gang of shortsighted critics picking at them for evolving too much, for not evolving, you name it. The fact is that Isis are one of the bands pushing musical boundaries today, and the fact that they are reaching wider audiences is mostly a good thing. 'In The Absence Of Truth' takes the general formula for 'Oceanic' and 'Panopticon' and adds some very Neurosis-like tribal drumming, lots of atmospheric passages and an overall more esoteric feel. As usual it'll take you a while to get into it, but once you do, it will be a vastly rewarding experience.

37. unexpect - 'in a flesh aquarium'
For all the doors opened by Arcturus' 'La Masquerade Infernale', for all its underlying influence in most of the wildly creative music that has been created for the past decade, there have been few records to actually attempt something remotely similar to it. 'In A Flesh Aquarium' is the first one to do so in some time, and while it won't have the historical significance of that record, it is a worthy spiritual son. One of those albums that induce some head-scratching when you're first subjected to its vaudeville-on-acid approach, it's also very engaging and even amusing at times. It would be easy to take classical music, spoken word, death and black metal and theatrical female vocals, mix it all in a big mess and call it avant-garde, but these Canadians blend it all into their characteristic brand of craziness and, somehow, everything makes sense. Come on, be adventurous.

38. virgin steele - 'visions of eden'
David DeFeis and his gang usually take their time between releases, but it's understandable why, given the care, the attention to detail and the sheer dimension of the metal operas they create. Six years after the conclusion of the massive 2-act epic 'The House Of Atreus', they are back with yet another ambitious offer, this time a one-CD only affair which nevertheless lasts for 79 minutes. It is, fortunately, business as usual for Virgin Steele - sweeping choruses, melodic, intricate guitar leads, beautiful melodies and brilliant songwriting that will appeal to anyone with a weakness for grand storytelling. The wealth of detail in 'Visions Of Eden' ensures you will get a lot from it for a long time to come.

39. various artists - 'rogue's gallery: pirate ballads, sea songs and chanteys'
Yes, the purists will tell you that there are better sea song compilations, and there are a few glaring omissions that would have lifted this collection to greater heights (Tom Waits, Flogging Molly, you name it). But the thrill of hearing well known and established artists like Nick Cave, Antony, Ed Harcourt, Loudon Wainwright III, Bono or Sting going all out for drunken piratey fun is unrivaled, and that's what makes 'Rogue's Gallery' so compelling. As all compilations, some things work less well (Sting, ye shall walk the plank), but most of them are lots of fun, like Nick Cave's contributions, Baby Gramps' songs (you have to listen to this old man, and his real name happens to be, yes, Baby Gramps) or The Three Pruned Men's (before you ask, members of the Virgin Prunes) piss up. The traditional songs are actually better chosen than what you might think, offering a good representation of the tunes that you could hear on ships back in the day.

40. voivod - 'katorz'
It's impossible to start listening to 'Katorz' without a heavy heart. The tragic loss of 45 year old Denis 'Piggy' D'amour, one of the finest, most passionate and truly creative guitar players of the last two decades, to cancer, was one of the biggest musical tragedies of the last few years. He hid the disease from his bandmates until very late, and then he revealed to them not only the sad truth, but also that they could find on his computer material for a few Voivod albums still, and his last wish was for Denis 'Snake' Belanger, Michel 'Away' Langevin and Jason Newsted to go ahead with them. 'Katorz' is the first of these 'legacy' albums, and the best compliment that can be paid to it is that it does clear your head of the unfortunate circumstances right after the first few moments. 'Katorz' is probably their best effort since the classic 80s albums, without which a great deal of bands would not even exist. The typical Voivod spaced-out feeling is constant, and the album is inventive and unpredictable, as Voivod always was. Rest in peace, Piggy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

top50 - the first batch

To re-activate the long-dormant too.many.records., nothing better than a list, for all you geeks like me out there.

In the next few weeks, I'll be telling you about my 50 favourite records of 2006. I hope you like it, and contribute with your agreements and disagreements, as well as your own lists!

Without further ado, the first 10:

41. sleepytime gorilla museum - 'grand opening and closing!'
Delightfully and endearingly oddball - if rock bands were boxes stored in the big rock warehouse, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum would be a grinning jack-in-the-box springing at you as soon as you open it. Inhabiting a warped mindspace similar to that of Fantômas, Mr Bungle or Primus, the music (not to mention the complex web of serious/jokey -you never know- lyrics!) in 'Grand Opening And Closing!' twitches its way from head-blowing heaviness ('1997') to creepy lullabies to gentle acoustic passages. Hell, they're even capable of belting out a potential radio hit, with the terribly catchy 'Sleep Is Wrong'. You never know what's next, but after a while you realize that whatever it is you're going to love it, because there is an underlying mazy structure to all this madness that makes it utterly compelling.

42. johnny cash - 'personal file'
Even though the 49 songs on this double-CD album were recorded between 1973 and 1982, they had been locked away in the man in black's House of Cash studio, in some boxes marked 'Personal File', and were only unearthed, as it were, in 2006, 3 years after his passing. Predating the spirit found in his Rick Rubin-produced final albums by over a decade, this personal file is a collection of hauntingly intimate songs, just the great man's voice and his guitar, complete with a few spoken introductions that make clear why some of these songs meant so much to him. An irresistible glimpse into the heart of Johnny Cash's immortal musical legacy.

43. god dethroned - 'the toxic touch'
After several years of good-to-excellent Slayer-like intense thrash, with a couple of essential records along the way (like 'Bloody Blasphemy'), these Dutch blasphemers have decided to shake it up a bit. In 'The Toxic Touch', they injected a lot more melody and a few changes in their writing style, with a less blastbeats and much more variety. While this kind of thing is usually a recipe for disaster if not thought out well, God Dethroned have pulled it off in great style. 'The Toxic Touch' exhales a miasma comparable to records like Kalmah's 'Swampsong' or Aura Noir's 'Deep Tracts Of Hell', punctuated all the way with infectiously melodic guitar leads for some really appealing dynamics. A resounding success.

44. callisto - 'noir'
If the likes of Isis or Neurosis are too oppressive for you but you'd still like to sample some quality post-rock, or whatever the term happens to be this week to define this kind of band, give these Finn boys a try. A bit like Pelican with vocals, 'Noir' builds on the wonderful 'True Nature Unfolds' with added chill-out bits, showing a jazzy side to Callisto's music hitherto unknown, while still maintaining the big riffs that they're capable of pulling out. Given their tender age, they are a great hope for the future.

45. lair of the minotaur - 'the ultimate destroyer'
'The Ultimate Destroyer' more or less embodies the true spirit of metal. By combining death metal, old thrash and doom in a powerful and tight cocktail, Lair Of The Minotaur are one of those bands that will make you headbang until your head falls off, but also whistle the groovy riffs afterwards in the shower. Their unashamed love for metal (the first song is called 'Juggernaut Of Metal', for god's sake) and the passion that was surely present in the making of this record shine through all the way.

46. dragonforce - 'inhuman rampage'
The London-based band (because it's hard to call a South Africa-Hong Kong-New Zealand-Ukraine-England collective 'British') is now suffering, from the rock and metal community, a bit of the backlash for all the unexpected success they have had in the past few years, but in this case it's totally unfair. Dragonforce deserve to be big. 'Inhuman Rampage' isn't as essential as their first two albums, but the excitement you can get from it is undeniable. The frantic speed, the rousing choruses and those impossible-looking Herman Li solos might not constitute the deepest, most meaningful music you've ever heard, but in terms of pure entertainment Dragonforce are basically unrivaled.

47. suffocation - 'suffocation'
It's always a great feeling when a band that has helped spawn an entire genre returns with good results, instead of just trying to re-hash old ideas and capturing long gone glory days. Such was the case with Suffocation. The death metal pioneers showed up again in 2006 as though they had never left. The self-title is a sign of how they don't need any frills or big fanfares, as long as they deliver what a death metal fan expects from them - crushing savagery. The insane speed, the inhuman precision and those vocals are still as essential to the more brutal-minded music fans as they have ever been.

48. boy omega - 'the grey rainbow'
From the bombast of the previous album to the diametrically opposite feeling - 'The Grey Rainbow' is an apparently unassuming little EP, which might remind you of what Bright Eyes used to sound like or what The Notwist sound like today. Martin Henrik Gustafsson (the man behind Boy Omega) is somewhat of a wizard, though, and his sparse and uncluttered melodies, with their gentle guitar pluckings and loose-feeling electronic bits, will soon find their way into both your brain and your heart.

49. bal-sagoth - 'the chtonic chronicles'
Age doesn't seem to fade away the bombast and dramatic sense of these brits, and this is as grandiose as any of their previous efforts. Famous for their mile-length song titles, they should be famous instead for some of the most epic sounding music ever to grace the ears of those more inclined to all things Lord of the Rings (and suchlike). the swirling keyboards, the theatrical recitations of vocalist Byron, the galloping charges - it's all there. Might be cheesy, but it's great fun too.

50. the mars volta - 'amputechture'
Chapter three in Cedric and Omar's post-At The Drive-In life is where The Mars Volta finally feel like a real band, instead of little schizophrenic snips of potential brilliance. On the contrary - the songs here are huge, not only in length but in scope, with an almost Isis-like sense of space but more jazzy and quirky. Or, horror of horrors, even poppy sometimes. The most charming thing about The Mars Volta is their ability to morph together different times, as if they're updating Yes, Led Zeppelin and King Crimson to the noughties. Maybe they really are.