Thursday, January 17, 2008

Best of 2007 - from #85 to #81

85. helrunar - 'baldr ok íss'
Enslaved have long moved on to grander and more all-encompassing things, but if you still long for some straight-up viking black metal in the vein of Bathory and, indeed, old Enslaved, Helrunar, along with bands like Helheim or Kampfar, are one of the best prospects available right now. 'Baldr Ok Íss' works great especially because it's a very balanced record - although these Germans never go all widdly on us, even offering some harsh and more traditional black metal like in the ferocious 'Schwarzer Frost' or 'Íss', they do know when to get down to acoustics and old-man-storyteller mode ('Winter'). The rest of the album is the typical chest-beating epic style, and the whole mix is yet another perfect soundtrack to some conquering and pillaging while wearing a horned helmet. Not terribly original, but it sounds great anyway.

Helrunar - 'Schwarzer Frost'

84. gravetemple - 'the holy down'
Take Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O))), Khanate, Burning Witch, you name it), Attila Csihar (Mayhem, Tormentor, Aborym, and indeed Sunn O))) sometimes) and experimental multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, and you have one of the most musically warped-out trios that you can conceive already. Now, ship the lot of them off to unstable, war-torn Israel in the summer of 2006, and have them perform screwed-up dark ambient droning doom improvisations. Are you scared yet? You should be, because the result of all that insanity is captured in this one-track, 60-minute disc and it's not an easy ride at all. The atmosphere is always unsettling, sometimes drawing you into a state of almost calm, with slow-burning hisses and bleeps, only to lash out at you when you least expect it into bursts of sonic violence, with chanting, growling, electronics, drumming and guitar feedback going at each other like a pack of rabid wolves, or as if Mayhem, Khanate, Sunn O))) and Whitehouse were all playing at the same time. My first listen of 'The Holy Down' happened during a 200km road trip with a friend, and I can tell you that our state when we arrived felt more like we had driven 20000km than 200. Mindfuck at its best.

83. amber asylum - 'still point'
There's a reason why Kris Force, Amber Asylum's frontwoman, has collaborated with my official Best Bands In The World, Like, Ever, which are Neurosis and Swans. In all Amber Asylum releases, there is the same underlying sense of earth movement, of some deeper, bigger thing than all of us that is being touched upon with these sounds. Not that the music itself is in any way similar in form, as Amber Asylum operate within a neo-classical framework, with Kris' remarkable soprano voice being a constant presence, but the images evoked by each artist's work is entirely similar. Although 'Still Point' is mostly operatic, sometimes even bombastic, the use of flutes and cellos and the entirely non-obvious nature of the compositions make it sound like one of those records to put on, on that day when they will say on the news that this is it, folks, the apocalypse is coming and tomorrow will never come. On that day, you will sit on your porch looking at the red horizon, and you will have Neurosis' 'Through Silver In Blood', Swans' 'Soundtracks For The Blind' and maybe 'Still Point' playing on repeat, and somehow, everything will feel meant to be.

82. blood of the black owl - 'blood of the black owl'
[review published on issue #159 of Terrorizer magazine]
Blood Of The Black Owl’s self-titled debut starts out rather misleadingly, as the first track ‘Kills The Timber’ firmly sets expectations for a slow-paced ride through harsh Darkthrone territory. Sole member Chet Scott must enjoy surprises, because that’s what you get as soon as the following song, ‘The Thunderous Hooves Of Two Goats In The Sky’, kicks in. Well, it slithers in more than kicks, as the sound of the rain and the spooky atmosphere start to envelop and consume you. When you least expect it, some dirty, gritty guitar has started to permeate through this gloom, settling into a repeating, hypnotic riff. The album see-saws like this throughout, impressively seamless in its transitions and changing dynamics, offering its fair share of pitch-black highlights after a few listens, the most fascinating one being the tribal horror of ‘Uwwalo’. Negură Bunget for the spiritual approach and Orthodox for the ritualistic feel are two good comparisons, but Blood Of The Black Owl is promisingly original.

81. akercocke - 'antichrist'
Considering the devastating live show that Akercocke put on and the totally individual personality that each of their records so far have shown, 'Antichrist' is a difficult album to tackle at first. Even before you start to listen to it, there's that terribly cliché title to contend with, and after the first couple of listens the whole thing seems to pass you by somewhat, very bland by comparison with the savage 'The Goat Of Mendes' or with the rich and complex tapestry of 'Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone'. Let it settle, however, and the dark pleasures of Akercocke will unveil themselves to you. The face-pounding violence of ''Footsteps Resound In An Empty Chapel', the gloriously ambitions 'My Apterous Angel' and a lot of subtle little innovations in the band's sound such as the jazzy elements of 'Axiom' or the unexpected electronic work in 'The Dark Inside'. Although it doesn't have the same impact as some of their previous, revolutionary work, 'Antichrist' is the sound of a band in constant evolution, and it becomes so catchy as you listen to it more and more that it might well end up as one of the Akercocke records that you will listen to more often.

Akercocke - 'Axiom'

1 comment:

  1. I've been looking for a band to offer a longer track than Moonsorrow's latest 56 min 2 track album. I'll have to check out Gravetemple's 1 track epic. Sounds like chaos!