Monday, December 1, 2014

Best metal releases of 2014 Part I

The year treated me well with countless albums that I simply could not put down.  Albums that I would daydream about.  Records that I anticipated showing up at my door like a little kid waiting for a new toy.  A few bands that came out of nowhere and utterly blew me away.  Albums that challenged me to the brink of love.  I hope that you find something here that you love.

My favorites:
1) Falls of Rauros - Believe in No Coming Shore

   A) Falls of Rauros / Panopticon - Brotherhood
2) Panopticon - Roads to the North
3) Merkaba - Bones of the Sacred Forest

4) Eternum - The Devouring Descent
5) Blut Aus Nord - Memoria Vetusta III Saturnian Poetry
6) Cross Vault - Spectres of Revocable Loss
7) Waldgefluster - Meine Fesseln
8) Taurus - No/Thing
9) Beketh Nexehmu - De Svarta Riterna
10) Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall
11) Nasheim - Solens Vemod
12) Drowned - Idola Specus
13) Darkenhold - Castellum
14) Wheels Within Wheels - Thirty Five Thoughts to Nineteen Elements
15) Yob - Clearing the Path to Ascend

Other great releases:
Animals as Leaders - The Joy of Motion
Annthennath / Quinntessence - Eram Quod Es, Eris Quod Sum
Blood of Kingu - Dark Star on the Right Horn of the Crescent Moon
Caïnan Dawn - Thavmial
Circle of Ouroborus - Kuuhun Kahlittuthe Deathtrip - Deep Drone Master
Diocletian - Gesundrian
Doom:vs - Earthless
Emeth - Aethyr
Encoffination - III – Hear Me, O’ Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs)
Funereal Presence - the Archer Takes Aim
Furia - Nocel
Giant Squid - Minoans
Hypothermia - Självdestruktivitet född av monotona tankegångar IV: Warakumbla
Jute Gyte - Cast Chains
Kermania - Kehre Heim
Krieg - Transient
Kriegsmaschine - Enemy of Man
Menace Ruine - Venus Armata
Messial - Gravitational Dissonance
Morbus Chron - Sweven
Nightbringer - Ego Dominus Tuus
Noble Beast - s/t
Obligatorysk Tortyr - Mork Triad
Old Wainds - Nordraum
Paths - Where the Oakenhearted Dwell
Posthum - The Black Northern Ritual
Primordial - Where Greater Men have Fallen
Rauhnåcht - Urzeitgeist
Saor - Aura
Sargeist - Feeding the Crawling Shadows
Skogen - I Doden
Sons of Crom - Riddle of Steel
Stargazer - A Merging to the Boundless
Stilla - Ensamhetens andar
Stworz - Koło życia
Sviatibor - La Foi Des Ancêtres
Torrid Husk - The Carrion Fields
Ulvegr - the Call of Glacial Emptiness
Urkaos - Rehearsal XIVarathron - Untrodden Corridors of Hades
Vargsang - In the Mist of Night
Venenum - s/t
Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity
Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestite
Zgard - Contemplation

Meh / Forgettable:
At the Gates - At War with Reality
Empty - Etica Profana Negativa
Graveland -Ogien Przebudzenia
Ungern - Steppenwolf
Mannveira - Von Er Eitur

Zorn - Gegen Alles
Tymah - the Past is Alive
Deep Mountains - Lake of Solace
Lantlos - Melting Sun
Insomnium - Shadows of the Dying Sun
Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
Agalloch - the Serpent & the Sphere
Manes - Be All End All
The Morningside - Letters from the Empty Towns
Ripper - Raising the Corpse

Botanist - IV Flora
Murmur - s/t

1349 - M.C.C.
Anaal Nathrakh - Desideratum

Darkspace - III I
Bethlehem - Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Midlake - Antiphon
Solefald - Norronasongen: Kosmopolis NordBethlehem - Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia
Empyrium - The Turn of the Tide

Mortifera - IV Sanctii Tristhess

Monday, November 17, 2014

Year End List: Part II

If you chose to release a new metal album in 2014, I admire your cojones.  I don't aim to turn music into a sport here, but the more your audience is occupied with other exceptional releases, the less likely they are to notice yours.  It was really hard to limit myself to just ten featured albums, and since this is my blog, I don't have to.  I certainly don't feel like only ten albums deserve mentioning in today's world where everyone's opinion matters.  So I've changed things up a bit this year.  What I want to do is list my top 30!  Today I'm going to list 16-30, and in a few weeks I will present the creme de la creme, 1-15 + more!

16) Ered Wethrin - Tides of War
At first I just wanted this to be more like Caladan Brood or Gallowbraid, but while some similarities pervade, this album has a decent set of feet to stand on.  A mighty debut!
17) Abigor - Leymotif Luzifer
Yet another cacophonous futuristic maelstrom from one of my favorite bands.  This is definitely a challenging listen but a rewarding one at that.
18) Swallowed - Lunarterial
I've been waiting for a debut from these guys for 5 years at least, and in that time they have gnarled into a differen beast entirely.  I was a little let down but this is still very original.
19) Drudkh - Eastern Frontier in Flames
So odd how this plays like an album, yet its mostly covers.  Phenomenal release nonetheless.  
20) Horned Almighty - World of Tombs
I will never get tired of this band, another rock solid fist banger of an album.  These guys just keep getting better.
21) Mare Cognitum - Phobos Monolith
Oh man, this totally hits the spot.  I liken this to a cross between Wolves in the Throne Room and Darkspace.  Definitely worth your attention!
22) Woman is the Earth - Depths
Its great to hear a new band hearken back to Weakling's "Dead as Dreams" without sounding contrived.  These guys are headed in the right direction.
23) Cauldron Black Ram - Stalagmire
I've always loved these guys but this album really clicked with me.  Everything fell into place here and this record is awesome.
24) Goatmoon - Voitto Tai Valhalla
Killer band with tons of great riffs, always a fun listen despite their questionable repute.
25) Paramnesia - s/t
I was really excited to have discovered these guys.  They take the Ash Borer formula and run with it to great effect!
26) Ahamkara - the Embers of the Stars
Holy hell, who pissed these dudes off?  This is an absolutely killer debut from the UK.
27) Alcest - Shelter
Yeah, I'm just not ready to give up on these guys yet.  This album has absolutely nothing to do with their former genre, but the signature blissful and longing melancholic melodicism is still strong with them.  I still haven't grown tired of it.
28) Falconer - Black Moon Rising
One of my most listened to albums of the year.  Its a monster power metal album with all sorts of catchy and memorable moments.  This album will never get old.
29) Fluisteraars - Dromers
Pretty interesting and solid effort.  I really like the monotonous and grinding repetition they     use.
30) Latitude Egress - To Take up the Cross
I was looking forward to this a great deal, and I'm still getting comfortable with it.  It doesn't help that the very similar Cross Vault album was in heavy rotation all year long.

When I present part 1 of this 2 part article, I will also include a list of honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut of top 30, but are still albums worth giving a listen if your are in search of more metal.  Thank you to all the talented, artistic and humble people that make this world of music more interesting, vital and expressive.  This is our language and this is how we speak.  2014 has been a huge year for metal.  Lets take it easy in 2015 so I can have some time to listen to all this great stuff even more haha!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Falls of Rauros - Believe in no Coming Shore

Album reviews have pretty much become moot these days.  It takes less time to go to youtube and listen to any album than it does to read a total stranger's thoughts on it.  So I try to write reviews only when I feel intensely moved to do so, so that I can create something that offers my personal insight into the music and how I relate to it, in the hopes that you can maybe understand it better after reflecting on my perspective.  This album is enthralling, among so many other things:

"Believe in no Coming Shore" seems almost incidental to me.  Falls of Rauros have come such a long way as a band since their beginnings, that when realizing the vast and elaborate scope of their progression and direction, this album seems like a mere checkpoint upon their journey to being one of the most fascinating and memorable bands that have graced my ears.  They already are that in my eyes, but the path that they are paving with each release is one that utterly disregards boundaries, exudes personality and gently breathes magnificently vivid tapestries that are absolutely unique to Maine's Falls of Rauros.

One of the things that I can be is a bit of a hedonist.  I reluctantly admit that I can often be found basking in something.  So its only fitting that I find myself listening to Falls of Rauros more and more these days, even in anticipation of this album, and especially after the release of the Panopticon split (which is a must own release).  The music of Falls of Rauros is rich and lush, boldly sweet and vibrant.  This album has so much to offer, and I cant seem to get enough of it.  This album is drenched with sweet harmony and so delicately woven with elaborate guitar work, clinging to every astutely composed section is something I don't see myself getting tired of anytime soon.  The slower passages draw me in with sweet harmonious shimmering guitar work, only to be followed by some of the catchiest, utterly melodic sections I have ever heard, all the while lifted generously by intricate and thoughtful drumming.  To me Falls of Rauros is a guitar based band, the vocals are secondary as with most bands of this ilk.  If you ignored the themes behind these songs, you'd be doing yourself a great disservice.  While I may not grasp a unifying subject of the album, the lyrics are intimate and personal, they seem to intend to serve as a mirror pointed at our very being, and a heartfelt word of encouragement.  "We're responsible for the world we belong to, all pity withheld.  We are answerable for the dusk we have walked through and our quiet contempt; hardly permissible."

Last year I was spending time with my friend Austin, who played session drums on their last full length.  We were listening to this album while driving through wintry landscapes in Minnesota.  I told him that what fascinated me about this band was that they can continually wax and wane in intensity in an ever evolving way.  Every part builds up to something else.  Each moment of their music is like following the veins of a leaf to the stem, then the branch to the limb, and the limb to the tree and the tree to ta beautiful forest in Maine.  It just keeps getting better and more luscious and beautiful.  I would say that there is no conceivable way they could ever top this album, were it not written by the best black metal band in the United States.

Though its all we've got, I've often felt like using words to describe music is pointless.  Its like painting basketballs about divorce.  I can tell you what an incredible album this is until I am blue in the face but my words have little ability to accurately portray the power that these songs hold.  I have probably listened to the album 25 times since I got it last week and I though I've had so many of the different parts swimming about my head every second that I haven't been listening to it, it still sounds like the first time I heard it.  Its IMPOSSIBLE to get sick of this.  There is an instrumental section at the end of the song "Spectral Eyes" that is an apex.  A section so brilliant that it makes everything I've ever done as a fan of this music seem entirely worthwhile because it brought me to the point of being able to understand, appreciate and be in awe of what went into what I'm hearing.

In comparison to past work, this album in particular is a lot more down to earth as far as the production is concerned.  I cant say I have ever heard any other album sound like this.  The overall timbre of the instruments in unison is somewhat drab and pallid, it all feels very...within reach and real.  This lends to it being a very intimate and personal sounding record, it also serves to highlight the ornate and lush musicality found on the record by starkly contrasting it.  To even further deliver the realness, this album sounds extremely well rehearsed and live, I cant imagine they spent much time doing punch-ins or edits.  Stylistically speaking, this record is a long progression from a foundation that is black metal, this album is barely black metal by definition.  The guitar playing, the bass playing, and drums are teeming with influences ranging from 70's rock & country to modern post rock and a moderate amount of other US black metal.  Even further removed from this album are other typical elements of your average metal album of today such as barbarity, anger, or really any dark subject matter in general.  Falls of Rauros needn't bother themselves with any of that posturing because they clearly focus on being one thing: GREAT.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What I have come to realize about Minnesota's Obsequiae

Today I am feeling relieved.  My trouble began when I met Tanner Anderson in the winter of 2007 and soon after was the first time I'd heard Autumnal Winds.  Upon loving it immensely (see my review), there was always this distracting itch that I couldn't scratch.  I really wanted to be able to say the typical phrase "Oh, this is just like ______ crossed with ______."  There was such a tangible familiarity that I am usually able to quantify easily by communicating something by describing it as "A thrashier ______" or something to that effect.  This trouble is even further fueled by Tanner and I's mutual and unforgivingly rampant obsession with melodic black and death metal bands of the 1990's.  Knowing that Tanner and I's CD collections are largely interchangeable makes it all the more frustrating that I couldn't easily reverse engineer Tanner's music; be it Autumnal Winds or Obsequiae to a palatable formula that could be stated in a short sentence.

The satisfaction and relief that I have found to this conundrum can be reduced to this article by giving the music of Obsequiae the reverence it humbly commands.  With the recent release of Obsequiae's debut album on the vinyl format, I have been seeing an increasing amount of comparisons ranging from Agalloch to Hammers of Misfortune to Pentangle to Bathory.  Each time I see this I inadvertently stomp my foot down because these associations are lazy, and do all parties a disservice.  What I arrived upon instead of all these pushy accusations is that the familiarity I still feel when listening to Autumnal Winds or Obsequiae is that this has the potential to be every bit as good as Ophthalamia's "Via Dolorosa," Dawn's "Naer Solen Gar Niper for Evogher" or Varathron's "His Majesty at the Swamp."  I am very excited to be able to watch Tanner work to achieve this level of masterhood, though I humbly assure you that isn't his aim.  I think that it is much more satisfying and worthwhile to think of it this way: trying to say what goes into the creation of Obsequiae's music is an impossibility but alternately I think its safe to say that Tanner shares a similar end result as the album's described above.  

In my later years of appreciating metal, I have found a great deal of deserved snobbery in being fascinated by artists who have fully engendered the language by which they communicate their craft.  All too many artists use only known languages to communicate what is in their head.  Don't get me wrong, this is enjoyable and the majority of society ask only this of the art that they allow to enter their mind.  I however, am different than this.  I want to experience new forefronts, new demographics and new realities that will be remembered by myself for ages.  I find that the more unfamiliar the language of art, the more continued enjoyment I can get out of it, because I respect that which challenges me and also due to the mundanity of everything that doesn't do this for me.  Without hesitation I hold Tanner and his music in this esteem and "Suspended in the Brume of Eos" is a clear example of this (as is "Venerari Sacra Mysteria"!)  The demeanor in which this language is offered to the listener is tacit.  Unlike so much other art, music and metal you are not assumed to be an impish headbanging sloth.  I greatly respect this quality about his craft.

The only credibility I seek in speaking about my friendship with Tanner is that I want to offer you my potentially greater understanding of Obsequiae and what goes into and what led up to what you are hearing when you play "Suspended in the Brume of Eos" or the brilliant self-titled demo.  I personally possess the most comprehensive digital collection of Autumnal Winds, and pre-Autumnal Winds music.  I know a lot about the origins of Obsequiae.  The frustrations that Tanner has been through to see his music through to a tangible format are unbelievable.  I dare say that Tanner's resolve to continue making his unique music is equal to Ginger Baker's eagerness to be a total dick; its fucking unfathomable.  His drive isn't only to bring what is in his head to the world, but to inspire a great deal of influence upon us that this somewhat forgotten style is still valid and relevant.  It may have fallen by the wayside due to the technological advancements we have seen since the 90's and our reliance upon these devices to create music is at an all time high.  I was able gain a greater understanding of this recently when Tanner played me demos for the new Obsequiae album.

The new music is instantly recognizable as Obsequiae of course.  Without giving away too much I dare say the new material is armed with more fury, it is more challenging and even more evocative.  I absolutely can't wait to hear what comes next from my friend's mind.  In anticipation of the new album, I invite you to order the LP version of "Suspended..." from 20 Buck Spin for a mere $14 and check out my interview here:.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Otyg's "Alvefard" - An Unknown Classic

I am drawn to things and people that don't sell themselves or put on a show to attract your attention.  I don't need to sell this album to you and its time of relevance has come and gone.  It is kind of weird for me coming to terms with that realization because I have been listening to this album for 16 years, and it has always sounded new to me.  I remember I was working at a deli in Marion, Iowa back then and though I have since become more well versed in the language of fake Swedish, I was just learning at the time, and I would sing these infectious melodies and triumphant soaring choruses over and over as I went about my day.  Never before nor since has an album so infectiously pleased and attached itself to my heart with its catchy and richly melodic stylings.  This album has really found a renaissance with me in the last few months, and I feel like I am enjoying it more than I ever have.  My purpose here is to celebrate this album and give it a well deserved break down, to further understand the reverence it deserves.

In 1998 when this came out, the metal world was bursting forth into dozens of sub-genres and it seemed everyone was trying new ideas, and a lot of it was great.  I go back to this era quite often for new things that I may have missed.  Otyg had tremendous foresight and bravery to take this idea to the hilt, and they were very lucky to have hit the nail on the head with this album in particular.  (I will note briefly that though I liked it when it came out, Otyg's follow up "Sargovindars Boning" falls vastly short of what Alvefard was able to achieve, and hasn't aged well with me.  Maybe in another 16 years I will get around to liking it.)  Musically speaking this album is a metal record, arguably more prog than metal but lets not get caught up in semantics.  Most other forms of folk metal at this point in time had a backbone consisting of the standard ferocious and / or vicious blackened metal with various flutes and violins adorning and dressing it up to be folk or viking metal.  I have to make a clear distinction here, this type of metal I have a hard time considering "true" folk metal, whereas an album like "Älvefärd" I consider to be a more believable interpretation of original Swedish folk songs into this modern heathen foray (* nod to Falkenbach).  Bands like Finntroll or Moonsorrow can play squeezebox pizza metal all day long and I can count on one hand the number of albums I like in this niche, but I think "Älvefärd" champions all of that nonsense.  To further illustrate my perceived authenticity with this record, Swedish folk music is traditionally played on a violin or fiddle, and Cia Hedmark's violin playing and simply gorgeous accompanying vocals are given a great deal more play in Otyg than most other bands.  Additionally there is a fair amount of terrific flute playing throughout the album.

If you take away all the above elements, the core of "Älvefärd" is mostly some sort of 70's prog album with a modern leaning toward the heavy without veering too closely to anything sneering, evil or ferocious whatsoever.  The influence of bands like Saxon, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jethro Tull, & Focus is probable.  The band's satchel of talent is flourishing with ideas that lay the groundwork for these varied songs.  Furthermore I think it is important to highlight this album in particular because Otyg had three demos prior to this debut, which never quite fell into place, but show that a far amount of carving trial and error went into making this such a perfect record.  Vintersorg's talent is unquestionable as a guitarist and a vocalist.  Knowing that he was a tender 20 years of age when he began the odyssey of Otyg is clear evidence of this.  Singing entirely with clean vocals and writing such stirring and memorable songs are what make this far and away my favorite output of Vintersorg.

Last year I attended a metal show in Chicago featuring several bands from all corners of the earth, and while I'm not too familiar with the themes these bands dwell upon, it was pretty clear that if you weren't into Satan, you weren't welcome at this show.  I was never really into Satan but I tolerated the idea because for most of my life, I would have argued that all metal should be about Satan and at least concern itself with an enjoyable amount of spiritual warfare to counteract the right wing religious upbringing all of its fans had endured.  It took this show to make it clear to me that I no longer had a place in this particular form of heathenry. I'm a much more humble man these days and no longer and I drawn to such reckless contagion of negativity.  The grandest things I enjoy now are in the ways I connect with nature, science, history and art.  As of late "Älvefärd" has been waiting for me at the edge of the forest inviting me into its humble and welcoming world.  In this way I fell a much more fulfilling and familiar connection with it than I ever have.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Norwegian Black Metal (yes, again)

Neseblod records of Oslo Norway recently moved from their original spot to the former locale of Euronymous' infamous Helvete shop.  Over the years Neseblod has become something of a museum of Norwegian black metal and finding a new home right where it all began is a very interesting turn of events if you ask me.  I've been perusing the online museum on their site as well on instagram, and it got me thinking about the notoriety that this scene continues to get 20 years after the fact due to books, movies, and news articles.  I realized that at times its embarrassing to me that the music I devote a major part of my life to, is known largely for the actions of some ridiculous teenagers back in 1993.  A great deal of this notoriety is due to the constant rehashing of the story of Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, Dead's suicide, and Varg's burning of 13 churches.  This behavior not only takes attention away from the amazing and timeless albums that this scene produced during those times, but it also disregards a great deal of what has happened in the international black metal scene since then.

There have been a dozen or so times where I've met someone who has this limited knowledge of what black metal is as "this is Ben, he's a huuuuuuge black metal fan" and I can just hear them saying in their head "oh, that's the angry music where everyone kills each other" as if black metal could be equated with a murderous rap scene in Miami or something.  Well, I would argue that in a lot of ways it could, so I really wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that way, and its because of the fact that media, and metal-heads alike have focused so much attention on these arguably historical (or even "legendary" as some people put it) actions in the early 90's.  I really wish that when a social situation like this arose, the person I am meeting would be thinking "Oh, black metal, that's the atmospheric music where they sing about forests and vikings and stuff."