Monday, April 06, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #65 to #61

65. general lee - 'hannibal ad portas'
One of my best personal discoveries of 2008, General Lee are a French sludge band that already have a few years of experience, despite 'Hannibal Ad Portas' being their debut album. Like it used to be, you know, when you didn't just post a generic deathcore song on your MySpace and got a record deal out of that. Anyway, it's an album that shows its maturity, developing lengthy songs (six of 'em in 45 minutes) with mastery and entirely appropriate movements, rather than just pasting together bits just for the sake of having long songs. A song like 'Drifting' maintains a real identity through its hills and valleys, impressing both for the dragged-out heaviness of its angrier parts and also for the solid melodic richness of the quieter moments. All this potential surely means that we might be seeing General Lee on more of these end of year lists in the future.

General Lee - 'Drifting'

64. mourning beloveth - 'a disease for the ages'
This sort of doom/death has evolved very little, as a genre, since its first steps in the beginning of the 90s, and that's usually the biggest criticism when yet another new band shows up with another dynamics-less hour-long album of true melancholic misery or something of the sort. However, as in every genre, there's a handful of bands that still keep it alive, not by "evolving" beyond recognition, but simply by applying undeniable quality to everything they do. Irish gang Mourning Beloveth have been at it since 1996, and while you know what to expect of them by now, it is nevertheless always good to receive a new album. The desolate riffs and suffocating heaviness of the slow songs are utterly devoid of any hope, but there is fragile beauty and sensitivity enough (not to mention the acquired taste that is Frank Brennan's back-up clean vocals) to not take it into funeral doom territory. Above all, there is a grittiness, a down-to-eart approach and lack of "woe is me" melodrama to this band that makes you believe everything they sing about, and that is really all the difference.

Mourning Beloveth - 'Trace Decay'

63. north - 'what you were'
North are from Phoenix, and they were threatening to become yet one more instrumental post-rock band with their debut 'Ruins'. The concept seemed cool when Explosions In The Sky and other people first showed up, but it's suffering from an acute case of overcrowding right now, and 'Ruins' didn't really offer anything revolutionary to allow it to jump out of the shelves at you. Next step for North? Meander a bit more in instrumental forgetfulness? Hell no! The quintet cranked up the noise and hired Kyle Hardy to scream like there was no tomorrow, and the result was 'What You Were'. Beard metal at its best, muddy and charging, with enough remnants of their previous post-whatever melodic awareness to make these songs more than just mere exercises in screaming. A huge upgrade for a band that is now very promising, and a case study on how to evolve properly.

North - 'Ghosts Among Us'

62. the devil and the sea - 'heart vs. spine'
Yet another kick-ass debut album! What was it with 2008? Did everyone collectively decide to start a cool band, all of a sudden? Check out that opener, 'Batwing' (right now if you must, it's just below this text) - if that beginning doesn't smash your head in, check your pulse. Way to start a recording career! Plus, when you think you've got The Devil And The Sea all figured out, they throw some curveballs at you, slowing everything down to a massive doom groove, unpleasant and confrontational. The overall feeling is close to that of a band like 16, or even Tombs in the more extreme moments. There's that same sense of gritty reality, of street smarts and of a very real haze of violence that you get from such bands. Throughout the album, those curveballs keep coming, and you get bits of ambient drone, occasional post-metal detours and even some angry noise-rock. All of those rest on the very heart of 'Heart Vs. Spine' - the repetition of finely tuned, lived-in gigantic riffs, menacing, foreboding and fucking awesome.

The Devil And The Sea - 'Batwing'

61. playing enemy - 'my life as the villain'
The unavoidable importance of all the bands in which Playing Enemy's members have played should speak for itself - Rorschach, Deadguy, Nineironspitfire and the colossal Kiss It Goodbye have pretty much shaped a genre of sorts that is now being plundered with the commercial success that none of those have ever had by bands like Norma Jean, August Burns Red or Every Time I Die. Success they may have, but they lack the roughness, the soul and the edge that made all those bands so important, along with Playing Enemy. Unfortunatly, apart from their awesomeness, they also all have one common denominator - none of them last long, and 'My Life As The Villain' was the collection of the final songs that Playing Enemy ever recorded. More musical than the previous EPs, which edged dangerously close to noise territory, the guitarwork nevertheless still feels full of bile and angry suffering, perpetually releasing accumulated tension and frustration. The drumming is precise and much less hazy than the rest of the sound, working like an anchor and pounding away merciless rhythms. Playing Enemy will probably fade into general obscurity like all those bands mentioned in the first paragraph, but at least the small cult following that remains know that we're all in on a big secret.

Playing Enemy - 'Applause And Abuse'

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #70 to #66

70. warrel dane - 'praises to the war machine'
Joined by former (at the time, since he's now re-joined the band) Soilwork songwriter Peter Wichers on guitar, Nevermore's frontman put out, with this unlikely pairing, a surprisingly good solo album. More than just quenching the thirst for new Nevermore material, most of the songs on 'Praises To The War Machine' are very much Dane's work, with a separate identity from his main band. Of course, some of it will sound like Nevermore, which would be unavoidable, but overall it's commendable how Dane avoids any obvious references or clichés. With some of the more aggressive moments hitting that rather epic Nevermore quality, like opener 'When We Pray' and its unforgettable chorus or 'The Day The Rats Went To War', it's on the album's quieter but also darker moments that the real gems are to be found. Much more personal than a Nevermore album could ever be, 'Brother', 'August' or 'This Old Man' offer an insight into Warrel Dane like we've never had before, and they are moving, passionate and utterly bleak songs, beautiful without being ballads and with a tremendous impact without being brutal. The icing on the cake are the two covers, Simon & Garfunkel's 'Patterns' and The Sisters Of Mercy's 'Lucretia My Reflection', especially this latter one - although they are rather unnecessary to the flowing of the record, they show the full range of Dane's interpretative powers.

Warrel Dane - 'Brother'

69. torche - 'meanderthal'
Almost universally hailed, 'Meanderthal' is the album that really put Torche on the map, and right from the first listen it's easy to understand why. While maintaining their sludge/doom framework, Torche have meandered (sorry) into a middle-ground territory - the almost pop sensibilities of the melodic hooks, that warm and fuzzy guitar tone and the absolute catchiness of all the material, from the most scorching to the slower stuff, all of them beg to be heard by a much wider audience than what seemed to be reserved for Torche based on their previous work. With riffs to die for ('Across The Shields', 'Speed Of The Nail'), ton-heavy sludgers ('Sandstorm') and exhilirating rock-outs ('Fat Waves'), the closest reference point for Torche is actually Kyuss, these days. That's not a band to throw around lightly, and in this case it's perfectly justified.

Torche - 'Speed Of The Nail'

68. they are cowards - 'demo'
It's only a demo, but it's disgustingly heavy so it gets in the list with all the social grace of a homeless wino, pushing around all the other records until it lands in its place smelling of stale piss. Made up by three former members of Atavist and ex-RedRightHand guitarist Robbo, this Manchester foursome take everything that's ugly about Iron Monkey, Khanate or indeed Atavist themselves and join it into one freewheelin', aggressive and provocative whole. Fat grooves and bruising attitude abound, and promise a whole deal for what's coming next. Which, apparently, is a split with Black Sun. Satan help us all.

Get it free from their website!

67. amenra - 'mass iiii'
Maybe their concert at Roadburn will help Amenra build the following that they would so richly deserve, based on every gargantuan record they've put out so far - 'Mass IIII' is no exception. Relentless and hurtful while still allowing space and time for darkly atmospheric moments, with colossal dynamics that make you feel like someone who's been punching your face in has just allowed you to get some air for a few seconds before resuming the activity and, above all, with the overwhelming sluge hiding painfully beautiful underlying melodies, this Belgian troupe have really done it again with this album. Ignore them at your own peril!

Amenra - 'Razoreater'

66. genghis tron - 'board up the house'
Electro-grind, eh? A few attempts have been made before by a few rather unknown bands, but Genghis Tron really do step up that surreal genre notion to a seemingly unbeatable degree. All kinds of bleeps and scratches and even some beats hover around an insane orgy of mathcore/grind craziness. Go see some photos of how these guys look (I mean, really.) and you can picture them holed up in their bedrooms, fiddling with their laptops for hours until they come up with this stuff. However it is they do, the fact is that it slays and will probably be the starting point for a deluge of copycat "cybergrind" bands all wanting to make a similar kind of hellish racket like this.

Genghis Tron - 'City On A Hill'

Friday, April 03, 2009

Best of 2008 - from #80 to #71

80. dismember - 'dismember'
One of the four horsemen of the apocalypse (well, of Swedish death metal) that still stand strong and proud, along with Entombed, Grave and Unleashed, Dismember offer us yet another slice of bass-heavy, groovy death metal. By now nothing that Matti Kärki's band can offer will sound new, but that's not the point either. Even if they can still raise some eyebrows (like the unashamed Iron Maiden worship on 'Under A Bloodred Sky'), the point of Dismember is that you know what you can count on, and what you can count on is good - eleven more blasts of solid, exciting and no-frills proper death metal.

Dismember - 'Under A Bloodred Sky'

79. inverno eterno - 'póstumo'
You might not expect Portugal to produce a quality depressive/suicidal black metal project, but here they are - Inverno Eterno can slash wrists with the saddest of 'em, and they don't have to pretend that they're German or American to do it. With a very Portuguese display of emotions and lyrical expression, Inverno Eterno offer a desolate but painfully beautiful landscape to each of their songs, mostly within the norm of the genre but with some added flourishes that create their very own personality, like the creepy whistling on 'Depois Que Tu Morreste...' for example. A wonderful surprise, when we'd least expect it.

Inverno Eterno - 'Depois Que Tu Morreste...'

78. blindead - 'autoscopia / murder in phazes'
Featuring some known names from the Polish extreme metal scene, most notably ex-Behemoth guitar player Havoc and vocalist Nick Wolverine (who now screams for Antigama as well), Blindead sound absolutely nothing like those references would lead you to think. With Neurosis as the clear guiding light throughout the seven intricate, interweaved, concept-based songs, Blindead offer a remarkably surprising mix of sludge and technical doom metal, introspective, deep and worthy of several listenes to reveal all their hidden secrets. Bringing to mind Bloodlet at times by their fabulous dynamics, incorporating quieter passages among the stressful atmosphere and for their strained weight of composition, Blindead are a name to keep under a careful watch.

Blindead - 'Phaze I: Abyss'

77. anaphylactic shock - 'two thousand years'
Imagine a blackened Entombed, keeping the full rock-out swagger of the legendary Swedes but adding a bit of kvlt icy darkness to the whole thing. Now wrap that in a sort of post-hardcore atmosphere with truly venom-ridden vocals full of spit and bile, and what do you have? A fucking sexy band that you wish existed? Well, wish no more - Anaphylactic Shock are exactly that, and with their unusual mix of styles, the Dutch gang have been tearing up stages and ears alike with their furious live shows.

Anaphylactic Shock - 'Holy Land'

76. harvey milk - 'life... the best game in town'
It would have been a shame if Harvey Milk had bowed out during the seven year period of inactivity they went through. Even if their past legacy would ensure them a place in the hearts of the few who ever subjected themselves to the skewed freakery of their first two albums or the punishing bar-brawl rock-out of their third, there is way too much talent here to just put away, especially when the mighty Joe Preston (ex-Melvins, ex-High On Fire, ex-Earth and ex-Sunn O))), the man's resume reads like the coolest discography in the world) jumps aboard to lend his bass to the proceedings. Aaron Turner's Hydra Head wasted no time, and helped the guys put out 'Life... The Best Game In Town', which is a sort of celebration of everything Harvey Milk have ever done. There's the athletic dynamics of their early tunes coupled with the hard-hitting, to-the-point approach of their latter work, and everything flows perfectly in a gung-ho Motörhead-like fashion. Even their cover of Fear's 'We Destroy The Family' is put through the Harvey Milk processor, making it something very much their own. Unique and highly addictive, don't miss this.

Harvey Milk - 'A Maelstrom Of Bad Decisions'

75. flogging molly - 'float'
California's coolest Celtic punks march on, with yet another album that should come with Guinness coupons, such is the mug-raising quality of their pub tunes. Infused with an extra sense of melody as opposed to the punkier early records, 'Float' doesn't lose, nevertheless, any of its exciting drive. On the contrary, all the songs are even more infuriatingly catchy, and it's one of those records that you'll hum all day if you have the poor sense of putting on in the morning! If any bone in you is tickled by The Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys, or any aspect of Irish musical culture for that matter, you absolutely need this.

Flogging Molly - 'Requiem For A Dying Song'

74. caïna - 'temporary antennae'
Andrew Curtis-Brignell, the sole member of Caïna, achieved with 'Temporary Antennae' what might seem difficult - to follow-up his classic debut 'Mourner' with a record that doesn't even try to follow the horrid creepiness of that album but manages to still create an enveloping ambiance very much its own. Even if it takes a while to catch on, courtesy of less inspired opening tracks, by the time the warped-out 'Tobacco Beetle' comes on you're on your own again, lost within the confines of Andrew's mind. 'Temporary Antennae' is a crawling, dark beast to tackle, but one which offers within its Burzumic core a strange beauty and a bizarrely welcoming atmosphere as well. Light and dark, conflicting extremes and metamorphosis, and one more musical victory for Caïna.

Caïna - 'Tobacco Beetle'

73. akimbo - 'jersey shores'
...where Akimbo take their fascination with deep-sea horror to a whole new level. After those three songs about the Megalodon in 'Elephantine', 'Jersey Shores' is a concept album about a string of strange shark attacks that occurred in 1916, and it's damn near the closest approximation of such a hideous event as you can have without actually ending up in the belly of the beasts. Concept albums are a tricky business, especially for a band that is more known for its über-riffs than exactly their extraordinary storytelling abilities, but Akimbo pull it off in huge style. Telling the tales from the perspective of the victims themselves, Akimbo introduce some droning rhythms and all kinds of warped effects to their already respectable arsenal, lending a whole new weight to Jon Weisnewski's monstrous screaming and the band's punishing sound. Eerie but still in-your-face, 'Jersey Shores' is where Akimbo went up the evolutionary ladder, two steps at a time.

Akimbo - 'I Think I'm A Werewolf'

72. *shels - 'laurentian's atoll'
Although 'Laurentian's Atoll' is an EP, the breathtaking care and attention to detail that it has benefited from, as well as the sheer sparkling beauty of the music makes it very worthy of integrating this list. Showing that it is still possible to innovate within the post-rock spectrum, with truly unusual dynamics and a heightened sensitivity in the quieter parts, *shels sweep all the Pelicans of this world to a corner. The most interesting quality about these 37 minutes is the dream-like feeling of the music - a hazy, even unfinished ghostly appearance of these songs which sees them turn more into "pieces" than actual songs. Sometimes it feels almost free-form but without slipping into over-the-top esoterica, flowing wonderfully like your weirdest but most wonderful dreams would.

*shels - 'Wingsfortheirsmiles'

71. treponem pal - 'weird machine'
Marked, for better or worse, by the death of legendary bassist Paul Raven (Ministry, Killing Joke, Prong) during the recording sessions, 'Weird Machine' transformed into the best epitaph and most dignified homage a musician can get - a wonderful album, full of his own talent for people to remember him by. It's nevertheless unfair to reduce this album to Raven - 'Weird Machine' sees Treponem Pal return in sparkling form, showing everyone how industrial metal should be done. With the mighty Ted Parsons on drums, vocalist Marco Neves uses his animalesque voice like few times before, creating a cyber-metal record free of all the pitfalls and cumbersome mistakes that this genre usually suffers from once you step outside the absolute classic bands (see: every band that Raven has played in). Maintaining a very musical, structured approach to the machinery-like environment, Treponem Pal dropped a true bomb with this album.

Treponem Pal - 'Mad Box'