Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Best of 2007 - from #35 to #31

35. iron and wine - 'the shepherd's dog'
It's been rather hard for those of us who fell in love with Sam Beam's first couple of softly hushed, minimalist guitar-picking albums, the unforgettable 'The Creek Drank The Cradle' and 'Our Endless Numbered Days', to follow his inevitable evolution into a more arranged, structured kind of composition, with more instruments and a few people around him colouring the songs. The 'Woman King' EP was okay, but it sort of passed you by, which raised my fears a bit for this album, but in the end Sam has been able to prove that no matter what the form is, the essence of his music can and will touch hearts regardless. Truth be told, there was little else to do with his old style anyway, and in this album he has thrown the doors of experimentation wide open. It's not wild "avantgarde" experimentation, but it's stuff like the fabulous dimension of 'Boy With A Coin', a song that is at the same time creepy and jolly, the little beat of 'House By The Sea' that propels Sam into his most adventurous vocal performance so far and the groovy undertones of 'Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd's Dog)', for example. Even a song like 'Resurrection Fern', which could be lifted straight off the first albums, is given a new shade by the quiet but present arrangements. Above all, this album must feel like a sort of liberation for Sam, who has now a hundred ways in which to explore his typical small-town, rural heartbreak stories in the next releases. I'll await them eagerly.

Iron And Wine - 'Boy With A Coin'

34. big business - 'here come the waterworks'
Big Business sure got their overdue spotlight this year, since both of the musicians that constitute the band are now also members of the Melvins line-up (and recorded an album I was quite excited about). However, that can also be a slight drawback for Jared Warren (vocals and bass) and drummer Coady Willis, since everything they do will now be looked at under the big shade of King Buzzo's crown. Which is unfair, especially since 'Here Come The Waterworks' is such a great record. Sure, there's hints of the Melvins here, but mostly in their approach to things, in that vaguely mocking-indie way that the Melvins do things, the same warped sense of humour. Apart from that, the album lives on a strange contrast that manages, somehow, to work - it's tremendously heavy but also surprisingly clean and uplifting, this both in music and in lyrics too. Take 'I'll Give You Something To Cry About', with riffs that weigh a ton and could have come from any doom album but also with twinkling guitar harmonies and sort of silly oh ohs, which happen right when Jared is singing about vultures. It's weird stuff, but it all comes together into a huge mass of pure rock. Go figure.

Big Business - 'I'll Give You Something To Cry About'

33. melt-banana - 'bambi's dilemma'
Play a random Melt-Banana album to anyone with a "conventional" music taste and the reactions are usually wonderful. From "are those yelping monkeys?" to "oh, those must be the South Park dolls!", I've had all sorts of reactions. At their core, however, these nutty Japanese girls are one of the coolest bands ever, mixing typical Japan weirdness with shit-heavy Godflesh-isms with go-ahead punk. All their albums have gone one step ahead in finding the perfect balance for all these apparently incompatible influences, and it's in 'Bambi's Dilemma' that they come closer than ever to the motherload. It's the album that goes to more extremes, in both directions - while it's the one with the most insane vocal acrobatics (the dog impression in 'Dog Song' is, well, hard to explain without listening), the harshest noise moments and the most unexpected bits of electronics, but it's also the one with the closest thing to hit singles that they've ever had and with the hugest metal riffs you could ever wish for in the middle of all this cacophony. Just when you've listened to the whole thing, rocked and punked out and think you're finally making sense of it all, they throw a mega-curveball on you with the ambient (?) industrial of closer “Last Target On The Last Day". Genius.

Melt-Banana - 'Cracked Plaster Cast'

32. marduk - 'rom 5:12'
Rarely has a vocalist change produced so many good things. When Legion left Marduk, the band felt kind of washed-up, repeating the same thing over and over. Since then, the former vocalist has gone on to do a wonderful blackthrash album with his new band Devian, and Marduk have been totally revitalized with the arrival of the creepy Mortuus, known for his ravishing work in Funeral Mist. Naturally fitting in the role as if it has been his for decades, his demented and from-the-gut-of-satan vocals helped make 'Plague Angel' a pulverising return to form, and now with the unholy 'Rom 5:12' he steps those up even a bit more and Marduk is definitely back on the christgrinding map. Finally, guitarist and main man Morgan has realized that evil does not only lie in speed, and Marduk are able to slow down to a grinding (that's the word) halt right off from 'The Levelling Dust', a thick miasma of black riffing from which you can almost smell the putrefaction. This haunting feel is intelligently built in the songs, so you don't get slow-song-fast-song like they have tried to do before on 'Nightwing' for example, but a varied and very uncomfortable overall experience. 'Imago Mortis' is one of the top black metal songs of the year, 'Cold Mouth Prayer' returns briefly to the warp-speed mode, which works much better because now you're not expecting it all the time anymore. then there's a little surprise that's the final piece to lift the album to amazing status - the authoritarian, menacing 'Accuser / Opposer', in which Primordial's vocalist Nemtheanga delivers a guest vocal performance worthy of all the brilliance that his band have delivered us recently.

Marduk - 'Imago Mortis'

31. impaled nazarene - 'manifest'
[review published on issue #164 of Terrorizer magazine]
If there is a band that embodies non-compromise, it’s Impaled Nazarene. Sure, throughout all the albums they have released so far (and there have been a few already, count ‘em!), there have been ups and downs in quality, but there isn’t a stinker among them and there are several brilliant ones, and, most importantly, in all of them Mika and the lads have shown that they don’t give a flying fuck about any trends or musical climates. Nor have they shown any sign of mellowing out, either, as each of those releases has been a blast of hate-fuelled violence. It’s quite a past to live up to, and the best thing about ‘Manifest’ is that not only it lives up to it easily, but it feels like a summing up of all the best bits of their body of work. Unthinkably long for ImpNaz standards, its 50 minutes hold some of the most varied and exciting tunes of their career. Despite being generally perceived as straightforward music, Impaled Nazarene have never been easy to categorize. There’s thrash, death, grindcore and black metal all mixed with an explosive punk attitude, leaving their own nuclear metal catchphrase as probably the most accurate term for it so far. But on ‘Manifest’, everything goes one step further – they manage to put in a doom song, ‘Funeral For Despicable Pigs’ and a goddamn exhilarating Motörhead-gone-extreme rock-out in ‘You Don’t Rock Hard’, just to cite a couple of examples of the generally looser, catchier approach to songwriting. This makes the record an addictive start-to-finish experience, but it’s done in a way that it keeps the furious, uncontrolled feeling of the earlier stuff like ‘Ugra Karma’. Just listen to the insanity of ‘Pandemia’ or the wonderful opener ‘The Antichrist Files’, in which Mika shamelessly shrieks “pledge allegiance to Satan.” No, they haven’t started to take themselves too seriously yet, and the obligatory goat song is still there. It’s still good old reliable Impaled Nazarene, except they’ve still got a few tricks up their sleeve and, unlike many other bands that have reached this level of extremity, they seem to be getting even better with age.

Impaled Nazarene - 'You Don't Rock Hard'


  1. Iron and Wine? Is that the name of the band? Well, now I'm glad, I used to think my band had the most stupid name ever! What a release.