Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 in review - top 100 albums of the year (part 2/4)

75. WHITE HORSE The Revenant Gospels - Volume III
Ugh. A sort of esoteric Gnaw Their Tongues, with some connections to the new occult poster-girl Chelsea Wolfe, White Horse is abstract, beyond-the-grave ghostly horror that sounds like it was recorded way before recording equipment actually existed. Mysterious, distant and bleakly funereal, it's music to contact all the dead relatives you didn't like to.

74. OBSEQUIAE Suspended In The Brume Of Eos
Tanner from the sublime Celestiial (who were in the list last year) was kind enough to introduce me to this, the first album from, Obsequiae, a duo in which he is guitarist/vocalist, and I was totally blown away. There's a star-gazing elegance with which they evoke the wonder and magic of the Middle Ages, fusing it with sizeable amounts of intelligent, mid-paced black metal maelstrom, making for a most fascinating first record.

73. LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER Eterno Treblinka
These Spaniards have been around for ages, but hopefully now they're on Relapse the rest of the world will start paying attention. And it's so easy to love them - if any inch of you appreciates environmentally aware grindcore in the vein of early Napalm Death, this'll be your thing. I wrote a bit more about then on The Living Doorway a few months ago.

72. YOUNG WIDOWS In And Out Of Youth And Lightness
It's noir rock, people. Groovy and catchy at times, brooding and subtle some other times, with a clear highlight to show other people why you love them on top of it ('Future Heart'), Young Widows are unique and I'm already looking forward to the next record and how they next skull art will look like.

71. VANHELGD Church Of Death
If we're gonna have a deluge of any genre, let it be rancid, old-school death metal. Seriously. Vanhelgd can clone 50 bands like them that they'll probably all make my 2012 list. 'Church Of Death' sound old, cavernous and totally crushing, just like it used to be.

70. LOCRIAN The Clearing
It arrived in the nick of time, the new Locrian incantation, just before I was closing my list, but it brought with it the usual ominous mood, a sort of Earth gone black metal thick atmosphere that sounds like distant evil spirits getting closer and closer until they swallow you up into an infinite void of nothingness.

69. METH DRINKER Meth Drinker
Fortunately, for every awe-inspiring, dream-creating record like the Locrian above (okay, more nightmare than dream, but still), there's a repulsive reality check like Meth Drinker to remind you of the disease-ridden gutter we really live in. A horrible sludge bomb that hits you like a junkie's well-aimed spit attack, it totally made me want to stink up Terrorizer's pretty front page by making them band of the week a few months ago, so go and read that if you feel like covering yourself in more dirt.

68. ULVER Wars Of The Roses
Not as much of a huge landmark as the previous monument of elegance and darkening subtlety, 'Shadows Of The Sun', 'Wars Of The Roses' is a sort of development of those monochrome sunset moods, allowing some other shady hues to creep in. Although it seems to lack a single defining moment to cap it all off, despite the huge closing poem piece, there's no arguing with the emotional power of songs like 'February MMX' or 'Norwegian Gothic'. Oh, and they're finally starting to be really amazing live too.

67. LAKE OF TEARS Illwill
 The ever-shapeshifting Lake Of Tears get all angry on this new album, and there's even the occasional thrashy moment here and there. Might sound like an odd mix, especially since the best Lake Of Tears moments have been the more delicately emotional ones throughout their brilliantly varied and unjustly ignored career, but somehow it works. Chalk up one more brand of darkness these Swedes have visited and conquered.

66. CONCEALMENT Phenakism
My Portuguese album of the year, from a band that will surely reach great heights if they keep on this path. Even Starkweather's Rennie Resmini puts in a typically fiery guest performance on an album that is chaotic, intense, insanely technical but one from which you can extract the main ingredient that sometimes the Meshuggahs of this world so lack - proper, expertly crafted songs. Do yourself a favour and lend this one an ear, even if you have to look up the meaning of that album title first.

65. CULT OF YOUTH Cult Of Youth
Post-punk, neofolk and, well, a bit of proper folk too. Sounds confusing, doesn't it? However, the second album from this unique band, looser and less martial than their debut, isn't all that hard to digest, such is the lushly crafted nature of the Death In June-ish songs. Look, Sean Ragon sounds just like Michael Gira on most of the album. That alone should suffice as a recommendation.

64. BACCHUS Bacchus / BALACLAVA Crimes Of Faith / DEAD IN THE DIRT Fear / HEARTLESS Hell Is Other People / NEW LOWS Harvest Of The Carcass / NIGHT HAG Gilded Age / SARABANTE Remnants
I know, right?! This serves to illustrate how many of these dark hardcore/crust/whatever bands have popped up in the past couple of years (and how many probably will - heck, even Skitsystem have signed with Southern Lord now), not to mention the other similar ones that are scattered throughout the list in the upcoming positions because they have something that makes them reach an even superior level. The fact that they're all here doesn't mean they're all 100% alike, actually the opposite - if they're here, it's because they all have something unique and recognizable to them and still manage to rise up above the growing mass. As I've said before, the moment will come when we're sick of this kind of thing, but it's not here yet. Oh, and I had already talked about a few of these on a band of the week post.

63. BASTARD PRIEST Ghouls Of The Endless Night
True story - a friend of mine who's an equally enthusiastic fan of Bastard Priest played it to another friend of ours who didn't know the band, and without telling him who it was, asked him if he could guess when this album was recorded. His answer? 1986. That's probably all you need to know about this gruesome punked-up slab of death metal, but read my band of the week post on them if you want more.

Recorded in a real studio for once, with rather shorter songs a slight little bit of variation, but essentially, the hypnotism beats remain the same. Even if there's a backwards song and stuff, it'll still drill into your brain just as the other ones did. That's really all we require of Ripley and the boys, and they do it like no one else can.

61. ALASKAN Adversity; Woe
From the depths of bandcamp, this huge discovery led me to purchase, oh, just about everything Alaskan have ever done, including a tape. Tapes are the new cool. Anyway, they're the shit - atmospheric doom, 'Oceanic'-like post metal and a substancial amount of grit and agressiveness all combine for a very affecting, brutal whole. Don't miss it.

60. ULCERATE The Destroyers Of All
Another one of those super-technical bands that you really only just notice are that gifted when you come up for air in between beatings. On their third album, these Kiwis are approaching critical mass, and 'The Destroyers Of All' are sort of like what would happen if Neurosis felt like doing a death metal album. It would destroy all, wouldn't it? Well, there you go.

59. WOODS OF DESOLATION Torn Beyond Reason
I was desperately into that album when it came out earlier in the year, and I made sure everyone knew about it in my band of the week post about it. I still am and still put in on whenever I want to feel like my life is worthless and have a good cry about it. Also, the Wolves In The Throne Room playing Alcest songs description I made up on that post still sounds like a perfect one to me.

I'm sure it has happened many times. Band members sitting around after rehearsal, having a beer, and thinking "how can we make this all more awesome?", and someone says "well, we could have Daniel Higgs on vocals," and everyone agrees and laughs and then looks blankly at the wall just wishing it would be possible. The Skull Defekts just fuckin' went for it, so here they are, all full of Higgs and his profound rambly nature, delivering the best album of their career and a perfect example of contemporary post-punk.

57. THE FUCKING WRATH Valley Of The Serpent's Soul
Don't read, don't think, just fucking rock. Okay, you can read a bit of what I said about them before. And yes, one of them looks like Ron Jeremy, and that's worth like a leap of 20 positions in the list.

56. RED FANG Murder The Mountains
I swear I'm not getting tired of writing, but this one's easy to figure out as well. This video, the best of the year, will provide ample reasons as to why Red Fang are cooler and rock harder than you.

How do you know you're a great band? When you can do a cover of 'Nights In White Satin' without a hint of cheese in sight. The Man-Eating Tree not only pull that one off, they manage to spice up the brilliance of last year's 'Vine' (that made my list too) with added variation and depth, and mesmerizing songs like 'At The Green Country Chapel' or 'Down To The Color Of The Eye'. And that voice...

54. RAVENCULT Morbid Blood
Pure, solid, stomping blasts of black metal the way it should be. Nothing more, nothing less. Hail Satan.

I interviewed Matt Finney himself, the American half of this American/Ukrainian duo, when this album was about to come out, and by then I already had a head full of darkness by listening to this way too much that it's healthy. Finney's dejected but brutal wordpower is amply complemented by Heinali's talent for creating noise and atmosphere, and on this album the two men are in sync like they've never been before, erecting a tower of despair and bitter sarcasm. Wanna know how crazy these people are? Since releasing this, they've done a cover of 'Junior Dad'. Yes, that 'Junior Dad'. Here. I rest my case.

So this wasn't lumped with everyone else on #64 because there's a bit more to it. Maybe their experience from other bands (APMD consist of Kevin Baker from the The Hope Conspiracy, Ben Koller from Converge and Adam Wentworth and Matt Woods from Bloodhorse) helps, but whatever it is, they manage to sink even further in the spiral of darkness and negativity. Equal parts Celtic Frost and Discharge, it definitely lives up to the amazing self-titled EP they released last year.

51. CAVE IN White Silence
It's like a summing up of everything that's great about Cave In, basically. The 'Planets Of Old' EP already hinted that this was going to be something special. Showing the same white-hot (pun intended!) fury of the immortal 'Until Your Heart Stops' landmark but not leaving behind their adventurous nature, Brodsky and pals achieve a perfect balance that culminates in 'Sing My Loves', just about the best song they have ever written. Guaranteed to move you, both physically and emotionally.

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