Once one of the most important communication and entertainment devices on the planet, music has fallen by the wayside in the march toward technological totalitarianism. Music is a comforter, a provider, a passer of messages and a staple of human communication since before we can all remember. But is its time in the sun fading? Popular music is controlled by corporations who manufacture the kind of acts that sell shedloads of records (digitally of course) when they first arrive on the scene, then are left to rot when new acts are found and pushed. It happens in all styles; who has heard anything from the likes of early reality TV show winners like Gareth Gates or Michelle McManus recently? These were two talented people who (however not to my taste) surely seemed to have earned their right to become the popstars they wanted to be, and yet were forgotten when the next series began.
Rock music is another victim in the onslaught of digitalised music. The vinyl record, once a cherished purchase for fans, now is nothing but a curio for the more hardened collectors, and CDs look to be following suite. I personally have a collection of over 1000 CDs, yet fear that there will come a time where new releases I desire will not be available to add to my collection, and thus I will also have to bend to the will of the masses. I have little desire to have a digitalised music collection; if not for my iPod I probably wouldn’t even have one at all. I have no problem with bands releasing their material in whatever format they desire, but I feel the vinyl or CD still has plenty of potential to create the perfect package for music fans. Who wants a load of digital images to accompany their mp3s? Not me.
Instead of this focus on what is currently popular and by proxy, what will sell, labels and record companies should be focused on pushing good bands that provide more than just a quick buck, merchandising and a popularity contest. I’m not saying that companies should throw away all ideas of making money; there are thousands of bands out there that deserve the money they make for the music and effort they make. But it should be about quality, not quality. The dying emo scene needs an injection of quality to remove the stagnancy that grows within it now. We don’t need another band with a swept over fringe, eyeliner, skinny jeans and lyrics of teen angst. We need something of substance for our disillusioned teen generation, something that they can take with them beyond their twenties.
I don’t paint all of these companies with the same brush, not at all. I know there are record labels who dedicate themselves to finding top quality talent and giving them the stage on which to showcase themselves. Profound Lore are one, Southern Lord are another. I just wish that there were more of them. To quote Steven Wilson of UK progressive rock heroes Porcupine Tree; ‘One of the wonders of the world is going down, it’s one of the blunders of the world, that no one cares’. Let’s hope we can save this wonder before it is too late.
I’d love to have had the time to create a more exhaustive list of excellent releases I’d heard this year, like a top 40 or something, but I simply don’t. But, I’ve stuck a couple more albums that I really enjoyed this year here so you guys should go listen to them!
Katatonia – Night is the New Day
Vomitory – Carnage Euphoria
Suffocation – Blood Oath
Porcupine Tree – The Incident
Tombs – Winter Hours
Wolves in the Throne Room – Black Cascade
Behemoth – Evangelion
Voivod – Infini
16 – Bridges to Burn
Austrian Death Machine – Double Brutal!
Warduna – Runaljod
Beherit – Engram
Shrinebuilder – S/T
Coalesce – OX
Candlemass – Death Magic Doom
Goatwhore – Carving Out the Eyes of God
Clutch – Strange Cousins from the West
Lynyrd Skynyrd – God and Guns
Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt
Obituary – Darkest Day
Hull – Sole Lord
Scale the Summit – Carving Desert Canyons
Napalm Death – Time Waits for No Slave
Pelican – What We All Come to Need
Rammstein – Liebe ist fur Alle da
Ravens Creed – Albion Thunder
Kylesa – Static Tensions
Isis – Wavering Radiant
Marduk – Wormwood
Minsk – With Echoes in the Movement of Stone
Greymachine – Disconnected
This year has been a big year for me, musically. My tastes have matured, and thus spiralled outward into many uncharted realms. After a visit to the U.S. I became very interested in the sludge scene, especially from New Orleans, and my tastes in the more extreme forms of music became more focused. It is also the year where my
reviewing has actually taken off; with my work with Spirit of Metal, I have been able to hear a number of unsigned bands and try to help them with constructive criticisms so they can add their potential to the future generations of metal. I have enjoyed yet another year of awesome music, and with some amazing potential for releases in 2010, I can but hope they will better this year’s crop of masterpieces.
As for 2009, it has been a year of excellent releases from new and old bands. My top ten was whittled down from literally hundreds of releases I have had the pleasure of hearing this year, and it was pretty tough; I have disputed putting in a top 20 or more as it helps focus the article, but there are many close calls for positions.
1. Nile – Those Whom the Gods Detest: No contest for me, the greatest release of the year. Stunningly evocative of the band’s powerful musical history, Nile’s latest release brings together all of their most potent musical weapons into one, devastating assault. Brutal death clashes with rich Middle Eastern tones, complex song structures and unusual instruments to create a sandstorm of the most epic death metal. Coupled with the return of extensive liner notes and one of the greatest album openers in death metal history (the titanic ‘Kafir!’), Nile cemented their reputation as the current masters of death metal.
2. Mastodon – Crack the Skye: Crack the Skye is a difficult album to approach, considering the heritage of Mastodon. Once underground, progressive sludge heroes, their sound has grown steadily more proggy and ethereal whilst their move to a major label has allowed them to finally achieve what they have always promised: a full on prog-metal masterpiece. ‘Crack the Skye’ blends their trademark riff-orientated sludge with the mystical story of Rasputin and some great psychedelic moments throughout album pinnacle ‘The Czar’. Stomping opening pair ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Divinations’ set a high standard that the band only raise with each progressive moment. An ethereal diamond.
3. Drudkh – Microcosmos: Ukrainian pagan black metallers Drudkh are an acquired taste for some, and a veritable feast for others. Previous album ‘Estrangement’ was a howling, raw salute to snow and forests, and was an accomplished piece in every sense of the term. ‘Microcosmos’ goes further. The black metal band that probably bleeds atmosphere, Drudkh possess that air of cold mystery due to no band photos existing, and their unmistakably cold sound. They personify the snow covered forest; bleak but beautiful, raw but alive, subtle but utterly essential.
4. Immortal – All Shall Fall: The return of one of black metal’s essential forces, Immortal proved yet again that label and hiatus be damned, they WILL write awesome black metal whether you like it or not. ‘All Shall Fall’ is a monolithic slab of icy riffs, the instantly recognisable croak of Abbath and a sharp mix courtesy of Peter Tagtren. A monstrous statement of intent, ‘All Shall Fall’ is the album they needed to make.
5. Converge – Axe to Fall: How do Jacob Bannon and the band keep doing this? First ‘Jane Doe’, then ‘No Heroes’, now ‘Axe to Fall’. As essential as ‘Jane Doe’, and as visceral in its attack as ‘No Heroes’, Converge pulled out all the stops to become this generation’s Black Flag, mixing doomy noise with bleak, post metal riffing without skipping on the harsh, blasting shorter tracks. A guest appearance by Steve Von Till on ‘Wretched World’ seals the deal. Devastating.
6. Vader – Necropolis: A Polish institution, and one of my favourite death metal bands, Vader released yet another brutally efficient death metal record this year, instantly recognisable as Vader and utterly welcome. With new death metal bands attempting to reinvent the genre every week, Vader proved that it’s style and consistency that is the key, not necessarily experimentation for the sake of it. A thunderous return, and ‘We are the Horde’ is one of the headbangers of the year.
7. Megadeth – Endgame: I was worried that old Mr Mustaine had blessed us with his last decent album in ‘United Abominations’ a few years back. Well I was WRONG! ‘Endgame’ takes all that ever made Megadeth awesome and amplified it. The album is a bubbling cauldron of spiralling riffs, trademarked Mustaine scorn-vocals, solos, riffs, more solos, more riffs, tales of genocide, torture and warfare and it’s prob ably the best thrash album of the year. The barreling opening of ‘Head Crusher’ itself seals the deal.
8. Cannibal Corpse – Evisceration Plague: An early favourite of mine for 2009, ‘Evisceration Plague’ didn’t quite scale the same heights as ‘Kill’, but Cannibal Corpse had tried their damnedest. Complicated riffing, stories of brutality, murder, sodomy (all the favourites), discernible but none so brutal vocals and some classic death metal tracks including the dragging, dangerous title track and the waspish ‘Scalding Hail’ made ‘Evisceration Plague’ yet another excellent addition to the CC canon. Only question is; where do they go from here?
9. Baroness – Blue Record: A highlight of sludge this year for me, Baroness create some awesome, Southern infused metal. From the Mastodon/Torche-esque ‘Jake Leg’ to the pastoral acoustics of ‘Steel that Sleeps the Eye’, Baroness create a grooving, bluesy metal album, at home as much with Zeppelin as it is with sludgy doom. A band that let the music speak for them, ‘Blue Record’ is a glorious exercise in freedom of expression.
10. Devin Townsend Project – Addicted!: Will Devin Townsend ever stop making excellent music? ‘Ki’ was a great insight into his ability to do acoustic work, now ‘Addicted!’ is his quote, ‘Nickelback album’. Full of massive choruses, even bigger riffs and the shiniest production you’re likely to hear in metal circles this year, the Dev has created something special here. Unashamedly metal at its core but with the female vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen, Townsend has crafted some of his catchiest songs yet, from the thrusting power of ‘Universe in a Ball!’ to the massive ‘Supercrush!’. You won’t be able help yourself from falling in love with the man all over again!
I have a strange musical mind. Now I’m sure a lot of metal fans whose tastes range over a number of genres, be it black, thrash, death, doom, prog, whatever really, like to have a period where they’ll only ever listen to one of them. For example, you put together an awesome death metal playlist on your iPod, and listen to only that for the next few days. I like doing that. But I find new and strange ways to twist that formula, if just to keep myself challenged by my music collection. Until this morning, I have spent the last week listening to only bands that begin with A on my iPod.
I originally wanted to do all 27 letters (I’m counting bands that begin with a number (3 Inches of Blood etc) separately) in a row but I think i may leave gaps for a while. Its quite an exhausting idea, because I found myself thinking ‘I wanna listen to Nile, but I can’t’. Of course, I could have but that would have ruined the experiment. So I stuck by it, and made it a week. I’m pretty glad I did, because I listened to a selection of albums I haven’t heard before, listened to in a while and some I haven’t appreciated fully until now. I also found that there is such a massive range of styles in my A column that I was always able to find something to suit the taste of the day.
Surprise of the week was Aborym 666’s ‘Generator’ album. Released in 2006, it is a harsh industrial black metal album that I got, listened to once or twice and then forgot about. I’ve listened to it repeatedly since, it is a bleak, vicious black metal album; its cold atmosphere enhanced by industrial/electronic moments. Other highlights included the latest Amorphis album ‘Skyforger’, Belgian death mob Aborted’s ‘Goremaggedon’, progressive death legends Atheist’s ‘Piece of Time’, and newcomers As You Drown’s ‘Reflection’.
Disappointments were Abigail Williams’ ‘In the Shadow of a Thousand Suns’ and Axxis’ ‘Paradise in Flames’. Abigail Williams basically play Dimmu-lite; its not that they aren’t a competent band, or the album did have some good points, but Shagrath’s squad have done it all before, and done it better. As for Axxis, they are WAY too power metal for their own good. Sure the formula works over a few tracks, but not a whole album and it became painful to listen to.
As for my favourite? Well, its pretty close between a few albums. I got my hard rock on to AC/DC’s classic ‘Back in Black’ a number of times. It’s a timeless album of stomping rock riffs and classic tracks, and only the bleakest, kvltist black metal bedroom geek could fail to love it. On the more metal side, I enjoyed Austrian Death Machine’s ‘Total Brutal’ probably too much. I mean an Arnie metal band? It’s genius, especially coupled with moments like the opening roar of ‘Get to the Choppa!!’ It’s hilariously tongue in cheek, and all the better for it. Its big, dumb and heavy, and you’ll find it difficult not to enjoy it, no matter how bad it gets. Just like Arnie’s movies. But the winner is Amon Amarth’s ‘With Oden on Our Side’. It’s a masterclass in epic melodic death metal; heavy enough to appeal to diehard metallers, melodic enough to please the air guitarist in all of us. ‘Cry of the Black Birds’ and ‘Valhall Awaits Me’ are the essential tracks, but it is one of the best albums of the last few years. And its about Vikings, pillaging and thunders gods; you can’t get more metal than that…
Now I know I’m a bit late in this, my internet connection wasn’t set up properly during December so I have only finally been able to compile this list, but I think its still something I wanted to do. There was a LOT of quality releases in 2008, from death metal through grindcore, black and progressive and I got to hear a lot of them. Anything I have missed though, please advise me on them so I can go listen.
My top 10 are as follows:
1. Boris: Smile – One of my favourite bands, Boris managed to equal the power fuzz rock of predecessor ‘Pink’ with yet another collection of stomping psychedelic rock, drone and ambience. Guest appearaces from psychedelic guitarist Michio Kurihara and SunnO)))’s Stephen O’Malley only heightened the aural pleasure. The most deceptively complex album of the year.
2. Metallica: Death Magnetic – The thrash titans returned to their glory days with the best release since the Black Album. ‘Death Magnetic’ runs roughshod over the majority of thrash releases for the year with its mature songwriting, excellent arrangements and the overpowering confidence that is finally back in Metallica’s camp. A triumph.
3. Enslaved: Vertebrae – If there was any band that may top Enslaved’s previous efforts, ‘RUUN’ and ‘Isa’, it could only be the band who wrote them. Enslaved have reached even higher levels of dexterity, quality and innovation. Picked as Terrorizer’s album of the year, ‘Vertebrae’ is the best black metal album of the year, the best progressive album of the year, and if it wasn’t for my personal love for the top two bands, probably would have won the day. Blackened prog never sounded anything like as good.
4. Earth: The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull – Drone titans Earth started the year off early with the release of their latest magnum opus, and what a challenger it has been. An excellent example of the power of minimalism, their repetitive country riffs, played at snail’s pace never lacked emotion or intensity. One of the best relaxation albums you will hear for a long time.
5. Asva: What We Don’t Know is Frontier – The album that gave this blog its name, Asva’s latest release showed how to create massive soundscapes without sabotaging the balance between crushing heaviness and delicate minimalism. Drone and doom have never sounded so good, unpredictable and ultimately rewarding.
6. Meshuggah: Obzen – Sweden’s finest mind benders returned to their more thrash roots with Obzen, following the twisting, labyrinthean Catch 33. The title track is possibly the best metal track of the year, and Meshuggah show all and sundry how to write truly complex and polyrhythmic music without losing any of the head caving heaviness. Almost embarassingly good.7. Warrel Dane: Praises to the War Machine – Being a big fan of Nevermore, I waited in huge anticipation of this release all year, and I was not disappointed. Dane proves why he has one of the best and most versatile voices in metal, and also one of the most coherent and thought provoking lyrical minds. Nevermore lite it may seem, but the quality is there for all to see.
8. Nortt: Galgenfrist – An expert example of how depressing funeral doom and black metal can be when combined. This is possibly the most uneasy album of the year; it is bleak, harsh and terrifying nihilistic. A lesson to all other one man black metal acts, this is how you create the truly despairing. Designed for solitude and darkness.
9. Gojira: The Way of All Flesh- French death metal titans return with an album that may even top their own magnificent ‘From Mars to Sirius’. One of last year’s heaviest releases, the technicality is excellent and the riff writing is top notch. Their pairing of Morbid Angel riffing with Devin Townsend esque grandiosity is awe inspiring, and ‘The Way of All Flesh’ is the most headbanging death metal release of the year.
10. Opeth: Watershed- Can this band ever stop improving? I didn’t think any Opeth release could top the wonder that was Ghost Reveries, and yet there goes Mikael Akerfeldt andco ruining that notion. ‘Watershed’ showcases all of Akerfeldt’s more obtuse influences, and mixes them in with inspired death metal riffing to create another Opeth masterpiece. It may get boring one day to keep rating their stuff so highly!
I am a huge collector of cds. My collection numbers almost 800, and my wish list is that and more. I love my collection, it is a source of pride, dedication, and a monument to my firm belief that we must always support extreme metal artists by buying their music rather than the download fetish that has infected so many of today’s modern music fan. Yeah, sure I download, but if I enjoy that album and believe that the band are worth supporting, then that album goes on my list to be bought.
It is just a bit disappointing that I read articles about how the CD is a dying platform for music. MP3s are probably the way forward now, online selling will now take over from the CD in the same way it took over from vinyl. But there is still a market for vinyl releases these days, and some record labels still dedicate themselves to a full release catalogue on vinyl for the more seasoned collector. Today is the Day’s Steve Austin has taken his entire label (SuperNova Records) onto vinyl only releases, so why will we not see something similar in the future when the digital age finally kills off the general sales of CDs completely?
Personally, for the sake of my continued collecting, I hope that the CD will not totally disappear. The sales may be falling, but there is still a market out there for them. Artists just need to step up to the plate to create a package that means that fans will want to own the CD, not just the musical content from some download site. A quality package is the key to the continued existence of the CD. If not, I may never get to complete my collection…
Well, maybe a strong word for it, but anyone who does this will understand my issue I am having at the moment. In order to create, not a portfolio as such but I suppose it could be described as one, but a balanced way of reviewing music, and especially of such extreme stylings, it is important to me that I don’t come across as overly positive all the time. I like to think i could create a review of an album that if people bought they could either agree or at least see where the thoughts came from. But I found, as I looked at my past writings, that almost all have been of an album I have greatly enjoyed and only one was anything that really approached a negative response. My problem is this; that if I don’t enjoy an album, a band or a genre of music, than I don’t listen to it. I’d much rather sit through a metal album that captured my attention, challenged me and more often than not, kicked some ASS! If an album doesn’t grab me within the first, say, 3 or 4 tracks then I start to wonder whether it is worth listening to the rest.
And yet I have come across a number of albums in my time that grow on me over time, or that get better when the later tracks start. Its a conundrum for someone who would really like to do this kinda thing for, well maybe not a living, but certainly as a hobby, because as you know, when you come across an album that truly gets to you, truly speaks to you and influences you to check out a band or a genre, its a great moment. Everyone can remember the albums that got them into certain styles, no matter what it is. Death metal was unattractive to me until I heard Lashed to the Slave Stick from Nile’s Annihilation of the Wicked cd (2005). I subsequently heard the rest of the album and was awestruck by the power, ferocity and above all the inventiveness of the band in such a previously unopen genre to me. I then began with their work and moved onto more stuff, and now own a massive collection of death metal cds. Its all about albums that strike you, but if an album doesn’t, is it fair to stop listening and declare it shit before you evaluate the whole piece?
I review albums I enjoy listening to because that’s what music is about, what you enjoy, what invigorates you, speaks to you, for you, what can brighten your day or simply make you wanna bang your head and jump into a pit with a large group of sweaty folks and go nuts. It doesn’t even matter what makes you do it, as long as it does. Maybe I’ll be able to put something up soon that was a proper disappointment to me, and that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend to people. But in the end its all subjectivity. You may think an album that I love sucks, and vice versa, and therefore opinions almost seem redundant in such a field. On the other hand, most people get into bands due to a recommendation from a friend or magazine, so maybe subjectivity has some life in it yet…
I have read a lot about this new Cryptopsy album, and before I write my review I will be determined to properly listen and assess its full merits rather than its online reputation. But I have managed to find two tracks from my online blog friend Cosmo at Invisible Oranges, who has written a great article about the online stramash that this album has created. Some of the comments on its content have, admittedly, made me feel a bit skeptical about listening to this, being a big fan of past Cryptopsy albums. None So Vile is a particular favourite, an explosion of crazed technical death metal that is part astounding, part bewildering, but all incredible. The new tracks I have been able to hear, Bemoan the Martyr and The Plagued, have confused me. Traces of the old, blasting technicality still occur but they’ve been streamlined into a more, dare I say, ‘modern’ metal album, with less of the chaotic brutality that made the older albums so vital and an awesome production that brings everything into a sharp focus. And of course the new vocalist employs clean vocals which has been a huge departure from the previous guttural belchings of Lord Worm. However, these are enjoyable songs for me. Sure the clean vocals appear to be almost of a metalcore variety, and maybe more important Cryptopsy seem to have lost that intensity and chaos in the shiny production that fans have previously enjoyed. But one wonders whether if this was not them, would the album have received such an online slating? If this wasn’t a Cryptopsy album, would it have been so derided? I feel not, as Bemoan the Martyr and The Plagued are two strong tracks that give something new to the Cryptopsy bow, and I think i’m gonna enjoy the album when I get a hold of it.