Thursday, February 21, 2008

Best of 2007 - from #25 to #21

25. watain - 'sworn to the dark' / ixxi - 'assorted armament' (watain) (ixxi)
A double-header! I could go into all kinds of wonderful justifications to have two records sharing one spot, and they'd actually be valid, like both Watain and IXXI embodying what's still relevant about black metal these days, kind of torchbearers for the genuine core of a genre, how both albums are similar beasts of misanthropic aggression, all that. All true, but this is actually a bit of a cop-out to hide the fact that I discovered IXXI, shamefully, when this list was already well underway, and 'Assorted Armament' is way too good to leave out. While we were furiously headbanging in the car to it, noticing that it wasn't a million miles away from 'Sworn To The Dark', my bestest friend JMR suggested that I slip them both in the list side by side, so here it is. Watain is Watain, if you're not into them, you're not into black metal, period. 'Sworn To The Dark' might not be as essential as 'Casus Luciferi', for example, but it's still a trve-as-fvkk satan-worshipping black'n'rolling middle-finger to music in general, and stuff like 'Storm Of The Antichrist' makes it all worthwhile anyway. Catch them live and feel the smell of death as the blood of a hundred shows rots on their clothes. And fuck off. Preferably, while listening to 'Assorted Armament' - just the beginning of the record is enough for you to understand what you're getting into. After the intro, where you can hear a whole bunch of mouse squeaks, a voice spits out 'Earth, man. What a shithole!". After that, the let's-hit-other-people-NOW! rifff of 'Armageddon Nobility' kicks in, dirty, filthy, groovy and GRAAARGH and you're hooked. And it goes on for nine more songs, so go get it. Now. You wimp.

Watain - 'Storm Of The Antichrist'

IXXI - 'Armageddon Nobility'

24. david galas - 'the cataclysm'
David Galas is mostly known for his involvement with Lycia, and there are a few traces of that sort of goth-y darkwave in 'The Cataclysm', but you'd be well advised to approach this album as a self-contained piece of work. And such a stark and sombre work that it is - Galas has worked on it for six years ever since Lycia disbanded in 1999 up to 2005, and it shows. The scope of the record is massive, with nineteen tracks spanning over seventy minutes of music, a remarkably well-worked concept that ties in with the booklet photos, taken by the well known Elena, the "kid of speed" that has done shocking work among the ruins of Chernobyl. It's precisely the air of desolation and abandonment transmitted by that region and by those photos that David can transmit perfectly with his music, with his deep croon very reminiscent of Michael Gira and the lushly but sombre and soberly arranged instrumentation. A song like 'September' perfectly illustrates the depth of dark beauty and of heightened melancholy that permeates this entire masterpiece. All of 'The Cataclysm' has been written, performed, recorded and produced by David himself, which shows the level of musician that we're dealing with here. Superb.

David Galas - 'September'

23. dirge - 'wings of lead over dormant seas'
[review published on issue #165 of Terrorizer magazine]
Much like the unfurling of their long songs, Dirge’s evolution as a band has also taken its time and matured, and now it seems the ideal time for everyone to realize their worth, as they are currently an all-encompassing behemoth truly worthy of being up there with Neurosis or Isis. themselves. ‘Wings…’ is composed of two discs, with five songs on the first one and the title track as the single one-hour track of the second one. On that first disc, opener ‘Méridian’ is a perfect blueprint example of what you can expect from the other songs. A 19-minute slab of creeping atmosphere that grows patiently but also stealthily, so when you least expect it you find yourself in the middle of a thunderously heavy whirlwind of sludge doom, capable nevertheless of switching back to quiet, minimalist ambient again. All these transitions take their time, seamlessly, so it never feels like the album is pulling you along. If anything, it walks side by side with you. ‘Wings…’ would be essential for this disc alone, but that second disc elevates it to classic status. Profoundly deep, it’s a journey of rising and falling, of light and dark, of silence and abrasive noise, which sums up everything the band has done so far. For once, the word genius is entirely appropriate.

Dirge - 'Epicentre'

22. alcest - 'souvenirs d'un autre monde'
[review published on issue #160 of Terrorizer magazine]
Neige’s (he of Peste Noire) solo project has one of those press sheets that seem to try way too hard, as it describes Alcest like “Yann Tiersen applied to Burzum”, but bugger me with Varg’s spiky mace if that bit of surrealism doesn’t feel 100% accurate after listening to ‘Souvenirs…’ in its entirety. And listen to it you will, often, such is the addictive nature of these soundscapes. You’ll even start to throw crazier names onto that description pile, like Sigur Rós or Jesu, which are probably the most important comparison point here. The enveloping, feverish melancholy that drips from this album feels a lot like the hypnotic shoegaze of Jesu’s self-titled debut, with the important difference that the guitars are still used as black metal guitars, obviously without the same harshness as Neige’s pure BM work, but with similar texture and coldness. This juxtaposition of feelings helps make ‘Souvenirs…’ a towering monument of fragile, desperate beauty that you’d be foolish to miss, regardless of your usual genre of choice.

Alcest - 'Printemps Emeraude'

21. naglfar - 'harvest'
[review published on issue #157 of Terrorizer magazine]
With an evolution somewhat opposite to many other bands, Naglfar’s constantly ascending path has seen them rise from their obscure and rather indifferently generic beginnings to the potent beast they now are. Not even the loss of lead vocalist Jens Rydén after 2003’s ‘Sheol’, an album which was the first real sign that Naglfar might be reaching for something bigger, dampened their conviction, as bassist Kristoffer Olivius put on a hell of a performance on 2005’s ‘Pariah’. Olivius has now dropped his old bass altogether to focus only on his piercing screams, and his improvement is remarkable, no mean feat considering what he has already done before. His powerful and versatile shrieks are the first noticeable result of an overall step up in intensity. If ‘Pariah’ was angry, ‘Harvest’ is furious. Even though still predominantly mid-tempo, the dynamics are much improved, with the slower parts feeling oppressive and the faster parts feeling rabid. One of the great things about ‘Pariah’ was the way that it managed to transmit real hatred in its best songs, and ‘Harvest’ also reinforces that quality. The twisted riffing ‘Odium Generis Humani’ or the sick melodies of ‘Feeding Moloch’ feel full of bile, worthy successors to ‘Spoken Words Of Venom’, however they maintain a distinctive, memorable melodic feel to them. A new factor introduced here is the immense scope of some of these songs - epic in the sense of their vastness, a bit like Rotting Christ’s new album. Opener ‘Into The Black’ is a great example of this, but the pièce de résistance is the surprisingly devastating title track which closes the album. Not only the best thing on offer here, it indicates a possible future that could be very bright for the band. It would be not only lazy, but unfair to label Naglfar mere Dissection successors, as there is much more to them, but the fact remains that these Swedes balance their genres to a similar effect, blending the best of black, death and thrash in a way that has been done precious few times, if any, since ‘Storm Of The Light’s Bane’. Modern extreme metal at its best.

Naglfar - 'Way Of The Rope'

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