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'