25 Dec 2013

2013, Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal:
Metal is where my allegiance lies, but picking 10 of the best non-metal albums in 2013 was tougher than I thought it'd be. Working retail in a store that sells music means I get to listen to a lot of different kinds of music during the year, meaning that I often discover albums I wouldn't otherwise have listened to. Some of the albums on this list are testament to just that, though many of them I have discovered by pure coincidence.

10: Slasher Dave - Spookhouse
With an arsenal of synthesizers and sequencers Slasher Dave of Acid Witch fame releases his first album of late 70's and 80's horror flick worship. His eerie sound is obviously highly influenced by John Carpenter and Fabio Frizzi, and is sure to fill the needs of any horror enthusiast with its subtle nods to Goblin and Halloween-infused synth "soundtrack". The album more or less came out of nowhere and surprises with immersive sounds, overwhelming production and spooky as well as epic compositions in authentic 80's style.

9: Spids Nøgenhat - Kommer Med Fred
The Danish psychonauts in Spids Nøgenhat are back with their first album since the release of the debut "En Mærkelig Kop Te" from 2001, 12 years ago. The members of the band are known for their involvement in other Danish psychedelic rock groups, most notable of which is Baby Woodrose. Kommer Med Fred is characterized by the band's transcendence from raw, fuzzed-out, piercing psychedelic rock into a sound more akin to that of the more melodic, psychedelic folk rock groups of the 70's like Grateful Dead and The Incredible String Band, while still maintaining the dopey, tripping trademark style. As a whole Kommer Med Fred is more easy-going and easily accessible than the preceeding album, and Spids Nøgenhat's return to the scene is marked by some of the most memorable folk rock songs in recent times and will for years to come, I think, be considered a modern retro classic.

8: Wardruna - Runaljod: Yggdrasil
Just when you thought Wardruna had ceased to exist they drop the bomb and release the second part of the Runaljod trilogy: Yggdrasil. 4 years has passed since the release of Gap Var Ginnunga, and on Yggdrasil the group - consisting of prominent Norwegian musicians, most well-known of which is arguably Gaahl of Gorgoroth fame - further delves into the interpretation of the Elder Futhark runes, continuing their epic journey through traditional, ritualistic Nordic folk music. Like Gap Var Ginnunga, Yggdrasil offers immersion, depth and songwriting at a level seldom heard in the world of non-electronic ambient music.

7: Lazerhawk - Skull and Shark
Taking a break from the usual 80's inspired outrun-electro of the first two albums, Lazerhawk's soundtrack for Dave Rapoza's upcoming neo-noir, maggot-ridden sci-fi horror comic "Skull and Shark" provides horrifyingly eerie electronic goodness. The music of Lazerhawk's latest opus is best described as panicking gothic tunes over gut-wrenching electro beats, and every track is at the same time distinctive as well as a continuation of the previous one. Skull and Shark has it all, from eerie atmospheric tracks like Chaos, to punchy electro-synth monsters as King of the Streets more like earlier works by Lazerhawk, and either way I imagine this album being the standard to which similar albums will be held in the future.

6: Jex Thoth - Blood Moon Rise
When I heard the Jex Thoth debut I was sold immediately. But coming out in a time where female-fronted occult doom-laden 70's hard rock groups were popping up all over the place meant that bands like Coven, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Sabbath Assembly, Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth and The Devil's Blood all kinda blended together. Nevertheless I found Jex Thoth to be one of the better groups; A notion that has since been made concrete by the release of Blood Moon Rise in 2013. Moving quite suddenly from standardized, fuzzy riff-driven 70's hard rock to a style that relies more on thoughtful and deliberate psychedelic elements. Blood Moon Rise has a slower pace than previous material where every strike of the drum and every strum of the strings feels considerate. The good ol' Jex Thoth vibe has been retro-modernized to sound a bit more akin to stuff like Pink Floyd's trippier songwriting with a dose of acid fuzz in there, and Blood Moon Rise in all its spiritual glory is their most psychedelic and most original piece yet.

5: Riitaoja - Manterelle
Insane amounts of incredible music coming out of Finland seems to be on a rise this year. On this list alone you will find 3 Finnish releases, all of which are placed fairly high. Riitaoja's Manterelle opened up a world I didn't think existed. A world of hypnotic, meditative folk-inspired music. Manterelle explores a sombre universe of little rhythmic quality, that instead relies on pulsating bass-lines, various folky instruments like mandolin and banjo, and weird, crisp guitar melodies that gives it a trippy, relaxed feeling reminiscent of a more tenebrous and slowed down take on traditional folk and country, sometimes with a jazzy feel to it, which makes it a captivating listening experience.

4: Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep
Spock's Beard is a household name to all fans of progressive rock with their extensive discography stretching back to the mid 90's. They have previously been lauded for the sheer amount of variety and the epicness of their songwriting, and true to their reputation they return to that form with their newest album, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep. The album delivers refreshingly varied bass-lines at the forefront with the guitars providing the details, while the vocals in conjunction with the proggy keyboards provide a melodic backdrop with amazing depth. Whoever engineered this record deserves a beer, because this is some of the most incredible sound works I have ever come across. Every element of Spock's Beard's melodic and powerful soundscape speaks of great musicianship, and especially so because the production lets every instrument come forth without anything else having to take a step back. The 9 minute epic "A Treasure Abandoned" is among my favourite tracks of 2013, and together with albums like Rush's "Clockwork Angels" and Symphony X's "Iconoclast" they form a strong front of modern progressive rock/metal.

3: Beastmilk - Climax
Thought post-punk was over? Think again. Beastmilk from Finland had previously released a few EPs, but with the release of Climax through Svart Records they took the scene by storm. Climax is just what it promises to be: One long climactic experience of gothic, punked-up rock music with a sound that is remarkably non-British and unmistakably BEASTMILK. International vocalist Kvohst, who has previously been part of Code, Hexvessel and other projects, does an amazing job at the haunted 80's vocals that permeate the Finnish band's music, and the melodic choruses are indeed one of the strongest points of Beastmilk, while the shoegazey guitars, booming bass and powerful drums form the easy-to-recognize and highly atmospheric soundscape. Only very few bands manage to capture the sound of post-punk in the same manner as Beastmilk. I am now under their control!

2: Clutch - Earth Rocker
Clutch has been around since the early 90's, moving from a hardcore-influenced style and to the more stoned out heavy rock style of Earth Rocker. With the simple songwriting of the latest album and Neil Fallon's powerful gruff, powerful vocals Earth Rocker may not be the most original album this year, but it is among the most enjoyable. The Clutch-recipe feels derived from stoner rock groups with a more noticable lean on hard rock tendencies and less trippy elements, though "Gone Cold" reminds me of the psychedelic "Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath. In a way Earth Rocker is the climax of several influential groups and waves with Clutch giving it their own spin, often going from straight up hard rocking balls-to-the-wall music on one song and slowing things down to a grinding halt on the next track.

1: Death Hawks - Death Hawks
So here it is, non-metal album of the year 2013. I've given this some thought, which seems only appropriate because the album itself seems so thoughtful. The Finnish band Death Hawks released their debut full length, Death & Decay, in 2012. This album was a tribute to the classic acid-driven rock music of the 60's and 70's, paying homage to Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and especially The Doors through their brand of retro psych-influenced rock music with a plethora of Finnish country-folk elements, which by now seems like the go-to thing to do for Finnish indie bands. Ultimately that album, while well-written and interesting, didn't hold up terribly well simply because it sounded a bit too ordinary, like something any other band could've done if not for the Finnish sound that made it stand out. This year Death Hawks maket their return with their sophomore album, the self-titled Death Hawks. The album is only 35 minutes in length, but these are among the best 35 minutes you could ever spend listening to a record. The Finnish band have progressed into minimalist territory, exploring a world of hypnotizing and meditative psychedelic folk tunes. They utilize a number of traditional instruments, but the tribal rhythm section - which only seldomly consists of actual drumming - and the mostly acoustic guitar work is what forms the main components of the album. The fact that only a few songs feature vocals enhances the trippy, cosmic feeling like flying through the universe or star gazing and brings to mind the most psychedelic periods of Pink Floyd and The Doors. Death Hawks is a unique experience of phenomenal songwriting and a display of flow and consistency unrivaled in todays scene.

What are your non-metal favourites of 2013? Leave a comment below!

16 Dec 2013

2013, Part II: Disappointments of 2013

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Though I'd say 2013 has some of the best new metal releases in recent years it doesn't come without its share of disappointments. These are almost exclusively delivered by bands you already know and love, but fail to keep things interesting with their newest efforts and don't come in any particular order.

Megadeth - Super Collider
I'm not sure this really qualifies as a disappointment. I enjoyed Endgame a lot, but found TH1RT3EN to be almost completely worthless apart from mildly enjoying Sudden Death and Public Enemy No. 1. With Super Collider I wasn't expecting much, and true to the tradition of modern Megadeth, the album has a few enjoyable tracks but is mostly dominated by a slew of unnecessary tracks. Come to think of it, if you took the okay tracks of Super Collider and TH1RT3EN you'd have an EP of pretty cool modern thrash/heavy songs. Some tracks on Super Collider features way too much of Mustaine and Co. circle-jerking around americana and blues, which might now have been so bad if it had been better incorporated in something super dirty and old school, but instead it was paired with boring songwriting and squeeky clean production.There's absolutely nothing of the old punch-in-the-dick Megadeth songwriting left, and Super Collider packs very little punch.

The Devil's Blood - III: Tabula Rasa, or Death and the Seven Pillars
Tabula Rasa is the sad promise of what could have been if the band hadn't broken up. From what I gather this last album is made of unfinished demo recordings, and that's exactly what it sounds like. A work in progress, an unfinished product. The album is as colorless as the cover art. The programmed drums are painfully undynamic, even by demo standards. Tabula Rasa starts out with the 22 minute long "I Was Promised a Hunt". The track features some okay ideas that I could see forming the base for a good track, but it comes off as a complete mess of unrelated parts sown together like a crude musical mockery of Frankenstein's monster. I was surprised to find that they had taken a more progressive approach to writing their brand of psychedelic doom-laden hard rock with even lengthier tracks than usual and songs that drunkenly dash through several climaxes and still waters, but the style just doesn't seem to fit the band and their music. Instead of an hour long mess I would've rather had a an album half the length, but more polished. I know that this given the circumstances of the band's demise was not possible, but then I would rather have remembered them as the band that did the masterful "Thousandfold Epicentre".

Joel Grind - The Yellowgoat Sessions
Joel Grind has many projects, most notable of which is Toxic Holocaust. He's also known for other projects like Tiger Junkies and War Ripper, and if there's anything that this latest self-titled project shows, it is that he doesn't do variation. I've enjoyed many of his releases from various bands and projects in the past, but they've all felt incredibly similar. War Ripper has that crusty feel that Toxic Holocaust never quite did, Tiger Junkies is way more punk/crossover oriented, and his latest eponymous project is more inclined towards Bathory-esque black/speed metal worship. The Yellowgoat Sessions has the same crispy sound and raw vocals as the other projects, and with it comes 25 minutes of the same D-beat repeated over and over again. It has some enjoyable rock n roll-infused guitar riffs, but those drums are already annoying beyond belief before the first track is done.

Peste Noire - Peste Noire
Some might argue that the weird frenchness of Peste Noire is what the band is all about, and on their newest opus it certainly makes them stand out. The Peste Noire album sounds exactly like what you would expect a black metal album riddled with French clichés played by a crazed Frenchman drunk on red wine would sound like. There's little to no rhyme or reason to Peste Noire, and somehow Famine found a place for accordion solos and French monologues. The riffs aren't as catchy as they've been on previous albums by the band, and it's hard to get into the rhythm and flow of the album. New drummer Ardraos does a great job keeping things simple and actually bringing some sense into the world of Peste Noire, and the purest black metal passages are awesome as always, but the weirdness of Peste Noire has become too dominant and makes the album tough to appreciate.

Satyricon - Satyricon
I remember Satyr saying at a show once that many bands write a self-titled song that really epitomizes their sound, and that Sign of the Trident was theirs, despite it not being entitled "Satyricon". If the new album is supposed to encompas the sound and feel of Satyricon, count me out. Some of my acquaintances have said to me "But Jakooob, Phoenix isn't that bad", but it is. Really, it is. The only track even remotely acceptable off the new album is Nekrohaven, and that track is still garbage. The Age of Nero and Now, Diabolical weren't exactly masterpieces either, and they were pretty far removed from the black metal roots of the band, but at least they were memorable and catchy as hell. Satyricon, on the other hand, is too long, boring, unvaried and uninspired.

Witch Cross - Axe to Grind
Considering all the commotion the re-release of their '84 album Fit for Fight caused, there is little cause for alarm with their newest album, Axe to Grind. It features everything a heavy metal album needs to be good, but not in sufficient quantities. It's a bit too clean around the edges, and while you can hear that the people behind the band are experienced musicians the album still feels pretty uninspired and lacks any zest. Witch Cross are safely fiddling around in pretty low tempoes with a slew of 80's metal clichés like the somewhat enjoyable brotherhood-of-metal track Metal Nation and the forgettable Demon in the Mirror, and the main problem lies exactly with this: They do the classic 80's heavy metal schtick with no effort whatsoever, making it a run-of-the-mill product of unmemorable riffs and playing it safe.

Think I'm wrong? Tell me why in the comments below. Also, tell me which albums disappointed you the most in 2013!

8 Dec 2013

2013, Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012

For the past couple of years I've done top 10's as well as some other stuff in one long post. This form just isn't very easy on the eyes, so this year I've decided to split the end-year post into 5 parts, which are as follows:

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
Part II: Disappointments of 2013
Part III: Top 10 - Non-metal
Part IV: Top 10 - Metal
Part V: Honorable Mentions & Runner-Ups

Part I: Stuff I Missed in 2012
I have found that some of the best albums are also some of the less known. As such years sometimes go by before I notice them, and indeed some of my current musical obsessions are top 10-worthy albums that I missed last year.

Conan - Monnos
A few years ago I had seen the cover of Conan's third release, "Horseback Battle Hammer". It had me somewhat enthralled, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what the band was called. When I found Monnos I immediately began binge-listening the British band's entire discography which counts a few esoteric EP's and a few other releases as well. I was astounded at the mammoth sound of Conan, everything from their far away haunting vocals to the droning guitar and bass and to the dragging drums. The intensity and heaviness of their debut album seemed like the perfect culmination of the first few releases in the way that it neatly sums up the crushing and captivating atmosphere that Conan had previously brought forth. Count me as severely stoked for their forthcoming album "Blood Eagle", set to be released in 2014.

Dawnbringer - Into the Lair of the Sun God
Most people would classify Dawnbringer as a somewhat unusual band, I think. Their brand of heavy metal often relies on themed albums and a weird affiliation for blackened riffs in a dry style. Into the Lair of the Sun God, the follow-up album to their acclaimed 4th album "Nucleus", features 9 tracks with Chris Black's signature bleak vocals, insanely catchy riffs and some weird organ work that brings to mind that of Deep Purple's Jon Lord, which is especially evident on the track "VI". 2 years, which is the time between Nucleus and Into the Lair of the Sun God, is the shortest time they've ever taken to write an album, but it certainly doesn't show. Their 5th album may well be their best yet, and it shows enormous potential to be one of those albums you keep coming back to.

Dodecahedron - Dodecahedron
Progressiveness and technicality often comes at the cost of listenability. Many artist and songwriters become so obsessed with their music being "weird" or "unusual" that it becomes out of place or otherwise unnecessary. With Dodecahedron this was at first the feeling I got, but after letting the album sit for a while and letting it fall into place I found that there was more to it than that. Every strike of the drum, every shred on the guitar, every faint howl seems thought through and deliberate. Though there are no songs that stand well on their own, the self-titled debut album from the band previously known as Order of the Source Below is a phenomenal listening experience when taken in as a whole.

Rattenfänger - Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum
When your band features the members from Drudkh, Blood of Kingu and Hate Forest you have quite a reputation to live up to. Contrary to the preceding bands, Rattenfänger is a death metal band with crushing doom influences. Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum is the band's only offering thus far but shows insane songwriting skills complete with cavernous growled vocals, an archaic beastly sound and some of the most varied drumming I've heard on a death/doom album for a long time. This album is an absolute must have and is criminally overlooked.

Witchcraft - Legend
Most of those who delve into the realms of doom metal and psychedelic rock will at some point have heard one of Witchcraft's previous albums. Though Legend is a lot less doomy and a lot less psychedelic there's still room for plenty of enjoyment as they've found themselves a niche in the worship of 70's hard rock. Legend is a testament to great riffage and could well be considered a modern classic.

Think I missed other albums too? Comment here on the blog to let me know!

2 Dec 2013

Avulse - We Are All Code [Full length] (2012, Broken Limb Recordings)

Patrick Hasson from Maine, USA, has numerous releases and various projects under his belt, including the atmospheric black metal experience Auspicium and the funeral death/doom getup Black Chalice, both of which I have previously reviewed. Having now listened to the next in line of Hasson's projects, Avulse - which is supposed to be crusty black metal with a firm punk vibe, I can now say that Hasson (or "Diseased" as he calls himself in Avulse) has a somewhat recognizable sound and style born from, as he states, copious substance abuse and simple songwriting with a gritty guitar sound. Hasson's style is so profound that all his projects seem like small variable aspects of the same thing.

Hasson himself describes Avulse as "a drunk asshole with a guitar jerking off to Von", which seems like a proper summary of the music found on We Are All Code, the third full length album from the band. The self-proclaimed punk vibe could well be attributed to the, for the most part, short song length, gritty production and shoddy playing. In all honesty the album sounds exactly like what you would think it sounds like from the description. Half-assed "riffs" on top of the distant clicks of what I assume is the drum track with whispered, raspy vocals in the background. There is little form, rhyme or reason to be found with the band, and the album consists of 12 tracks of unnoteworthy, quantity-over-quality tracks of punked up black metal with no hooks.

The lengthiest songs (and I use this term loosely) are by far the most well-written. The album's title track isn't half bad, and the second track, Flames of Liberty, is a tiny bit above the rest in terms of quality. From experience I know that the man behind the band can in fact write some pretty good songs, and the title track in particular attest to that. Hasson is a somewhat accomplished songwriter, but only in the songs where he has actually put in a little effort does this show. The rest, I'm afraid, is a slobby mess. As such the title track and the two cover tracks are also the only ones that show any semblance to actual musical structure.

Alcoholic or not, We Are All Code seems like a waste of effort. The Auspicium and Black Chalice releases I've heard speak of more coherent songwriting skills, and as such Avulse may just be a way to vent frustration whilst in a drunken stupor, but most of the tracks on this third album would probably be better off not being released. It boggles my mind that there are at least 2 other albums, a split, two EP's and a demo more of this stuff out there, because if this album is at all representative of the overall quality of the songwriting in this one-man band, it's not worth checking out. 3/10 guitars.

1. I Drink, Therefore I Am
2. Flames of Liberty
3. Youth is Wasted on the Stupid
4. False Flag
5. Now or Then
6. Phagocytosis
7. Veteran's Day
8. 100 MpH
9. Black Denim
10. No Friend of Mine (Slapshot cover)
11. Hope (Descendants cover)
12. We Are All Code

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