Tis The Season: Part Five
One complaint that’s often made about end of year lists is that it’s always the same albums appearing over and over again. Well, the two lists below don’t overlap at all. One list is courtesy of Fei Yun, who’s the bassist, guitarist, and vocalist for Auckland sludge and doom duo Mosquito Control. While the other end of year list is provided by Witchfinder General, who’s one of the hosts of the Wellington-based Anger Management Show on Radio Active.
My thanks to Fei and Witchfinder for their time and efforts. There’s one more Tis the Season post to come. Featuring musician and Subcide Zine overlord Chris Rigby, and Terrorizer contributor Tom Saunders. And they’ll both be counting down their picks for 2014.
(10) Vanhelgd — Relics of Sulphur Salvation
Vanhelgd have always been a more sincere sounding band compared to their throwback Swedish colleagues from the same era. Relics of Sulphur Salvation showed Vanhelgd further crafting their dark death arts, while some of their throwback countrymen are switching styles abruptly in attempt to strive for identity.
(9) Kriegsmaschine — Enemy of Man
Enemy of Man can be considered the drum-centered counter-piece of Mgla’s riff-driven latest album With Hearts Toward None (both members from Mgla also play in Kriegsmaschine). Enemy of Man features minimalistic and hypnotic riffs, combined with crafted unconventional drumming. I’ve come across some comments about this album being monotonous. I say focus on the drums, and try again.
(8) Swallowed — Lunarterial
The progression Swallowed have showed on their 7” EP compared to their demos has already floored many people. And the band’s full-length debut, Lunarterial, is another level up. It’s morbid and hallucinating deathnoise, with a healthy ratio between chaos and actual music.
(7) Whitehorse — Raised into Darkness
Oppressive sludge with a hint of death/doom, and a massive layer of noise on top. Unlike some of the uber-heavy but almost riff-less sludge bands that are popular in the recent times, Whitehorse actually write good riffs.
(6) Earth — Primitive and Deadly
Extra-Capsular riffing combined with the desolate wild west vibe you find on the later Earth records. I could do without all the guest appearances though. These songs sounded even more powerful when Earth played them live as a three-piece.
(5) Satan’s Satyrs — Die Screaming
Not sure if this still count as metal. Since their first full length, Satan’s Satyrs have started shifting away from the Electric Wizard meets Black Flag doom punk style of their early days, adding more elements of heavy psych and surf rock. Satan’s Satyrs’ second album is another step in that direction, and showed a lot of improvement in their songwriting skills. While some might miss the more ruthless vibes the band used to demonstrate, I find that hard to complain about because the songs are just awesome.
(4) Dead Congregation — Promulgation of the Fall
Long-awaited second offering from Greece’s death metal modern masters. The six years in between already made Graves of the Archangels a modern classic, and Promulgation of the Fall doesn’t disappoint either. The old school death metal trend came and went during the time between these two albums, and the only bands that made lasting impacts are the ones that had their own twist on the style like Dead Congregation: Rather than the bands that tried to make another Left Hand Path or Onward to Golgotha.
(3) Boris — Noise
The second major label album from Boris. Unlike their first major label release, New Album (2011), which was a full-on J-pop album, Noise showcased every music genre Boris have touched on during the last decade: sludge metal, stoner rock, drone, crust/d-beat, shoegaze and J-pop. Despise the various styles included on this album, it flows extremely well, and songs like “Heavy Rain” and “Taiyo no Baka” can be considered some of Boris’ finest. (And no, it doesn’t feature anything that sounds like Amplifier Worship or the orange Heavy Rocks album. That’s why I said, “the last decade”, instead of Boris’ entire lifespan.)
(2) Doombringer — The Grand Sabbath
If you’re a fan of late-80s/early-90s non-Norwegian European black metal, you should definitely check this out. Traces of old Greek BM (à la Varathron and Rotting Christ), Mortuary Drape, and Master’s Hammer etc can be found. And the riffs are absolutely great.
(1) Blind Witch — Burn Witch Burn
Traditional ’80’s doom from three Sabbat/Metalucifer alumni. Elizaveat, Sabbat’s guitarist during the early 7” EP days, and longtime Metalucifer guitarist, brings you crushing riffs one after another. His brother, Elizabigore, who also plays guitar in Metalucifer, is on bass. Temis, who played guitar on most of the post-Elizaveat Sabbat albums does vocals here. And a young and relatively unknown drummer, Ryo Koyatsu, rounds up the lineup. However, performance-wise he’s probably the most noteworthy player on this album. Imagine if Chris Hakius did speed instead of weed, and played drums for Trouble.
From my perspective, this year has been a quiet one. A list of some of my favourite bands that released material in ’12 and ’13 gives an idea of the sort of stuff I like: Amorphis, Candlemass, Clutch, Dead Can Dance, Death Angel, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, My Dying Bride, and Witherscape.
This year hasn’t turned up a heck of a lot for me, and some has been a bit underwhelming compared to my expectations. Although, the good news is that there was some fine New Zealand material in the melodic metal, stoner/doom, and post-rock genres. Putting the Kiwi efforts aside for a moment, I struggled to even find five albums that equalled or bettered my expectations.
Falconer — Black Moon Rising
This is how folk metal should be done: Clean vocals, no stupid drinking songs, no pirate shanties, and no stupid costumes. Falconer put out an album to rival their first two classic releases from many years ago. Probably my number one album of the year.
Empyrium — The Turn Of The Tides
One of the best bits of news in the last couple of years was the return of the Empyrium. First with a live release, and then a new studio album. Their original releases ranged from slightly blackened nature-based folk metal to doom to acoustic and classical stuff. Empyrium’s latest album takes cues from most of that material, settling somewhere in the middle overall. That could have resulted in something less than worthy, but The Turn Of The Tides is great.
While Heaven Wept — Suspended At Aphelion
One of my favourite bands, and While Heaven Wept have mixed excellent emotional and melodic doom with faster more traditional metal in recent years. (Always with fantastic vocals too). The band has taken a couple of side roads on this release, with some black-ish vocals appearing early on. Suspended At Aphelion is supposedly one piece of music, split into many parts, but sounds like it’s comprised of different songs to me. I don’t think this is the pinnacle for While Heaven Wept, but Suspended At Aphelion is a worthy album. And at 39 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Vanishing Point — Distant Is The Sun
I’d stopped following this slick sounding Aussie melodic/prog metal band as they were getting too boring. But I got given a tip that Distant Is The Sun was a good album, and it is. If you enjoyed Embrace The Silence, and haven’t really followed Vanishing Point since, definitely check out this one.
Now to some Kiwi standouts.
Heterodox — Elixir Of Lethe
A world class album. An early song of theirs called “Till The Road Takes It’s Toll” was okay, but unremarkable. But Heterodox have produced a near masterpiece of stoner rock/metal with Elixir Of Lethe. I had a sense something good was brewing from a short video that was part of a crowdfunding request they produced. I duly added my funds to their effort, and was not disappointed. The writing, playing, and the sound on the album are all great. Some nice lengthy tracks, and instrumental passages. And there is one obligatory shorter ‘single’ style track that doesn’t work so well—at least as a standalone piece. But, taken as a whole, Elixir Of Lethe is hard to fault.
Devilskin — We Rise
We Rise falls somewhere between hard rock and metal, and the album is fantastic. Devilskin also deliver live, as I found out the first time I saw them. Most rock and metal fans in New Zealand will know all about Devilskin, the biggest name in the band, and the talented and amazingly well presented vocalist. Like Heterodox, We Rise is world class stuff. I could see Devilskin making an impression on Europe if they are up for the time, effort, and costs involved.
Fallen Order — The Age Of Kings
The long awaited debut from Fallen Order. The first time I saw Fallen Order was around mid-09, opening for Aussie band Lord. Fallen Order’s classic melodic metal was pleasing, and vocalist Hamish obviously had talent—albeit perhaps a bit one dimensional, at that point. Fast forward a few years, and now Fallen Order are veterans, and the whole band is sounding great. The Age Of Kings featured five tracks and 30 minutes of melodic traditional metal that has been getting consistently good reviews. Priest meets Manowar but without the cheese. (Like the Dilmah Tea slogan says, “do try it”.)
Lord Of Tigers — self-titled
A short but well formed album of dense sounding stoner/doom. By dense I mean that both the song’s lengths and the overall sound is somehow compacted into mostly sub-four minute songs. Rather than longer and spacier tracks. The whole album packs a punch, without being overtly aggressive. Only available via download on Bandcamp, and well worth the low price they are charging.
Kerretta — Pirohia
Third album from these instrumental post-rockers. I don’t have their second album, but the debut, Vilayer, was excellent. This, along with the next album I’m going to talk about, are not particularly heavy, so it’s a case of letting the music flow into and through you. One track features vocals, but not lead vocals from the band. Rather, it’s a Maori waiata or karakia – no info is provided, so I have probably just used inappropriate wording. It was an experiment that could have face-planted, but it works really well. Pirohia is well worth checking out!
Jakob — Sine
Long delayed latest album from Jakob. As always, an all instrumental affair, and Sine has been heavily praised in just about all quarters. It’s a good album, no doubt about it. Sounds lovely, sonically. I’d probably be more effusive in my praise if it had come out before the Kerretta album, or if Sine had some heavier passages. Previously, you could count on a Jakob album to have some music that really amped up the intensity and volume. But Sine is a more lush affair, without those peaks of sonic power.
Finally, I’ll mention some albums that weren’t exactly bad, but they did come in a little bit below expectations. Mainly because I love the bands involved, and my expectations were high.
Monsterworks — Universe and Overhaul
After an amazing run of albums culminating in Earth, this prolific band, originally from NZ but long UK-based (with one original kiwi left—the mainman) has hit a bit of a plateau. I don’t know where they can go next, but I do feel something needs to change. Like many bands Monsterworks have gone down the road where the heavy bits get heavier, the softer bits get softer, the metal is sometimes a bit proggier, and the vocals aren’t quite as aggressive. I think the next move for Monsterworks should be to go a bit retrograde. Go the full circle, as it were.
Electric Wizard — Time To Die
Who doesn’t love the Wiz? If you don’t, it’s time to die. Time To Die seems to be heralded as a masterpiece all over the show, and it’s good, maybe even great, but it’ll never be a personal favourite. There’s standard Wiz fare; drugs, satan, horror, check! I might be picky, but something that bugs me about this album is that one or two samples are repeated too much, even though they’re in the background most of the time. I always find it hard to define what makes a great Wiz album. Sometimes I just feel it, and sometimes I don’t. Perhaps I’m not a good indicator of a great Wiz album is, because I don’t worship at the altar of Witchcult Today (heresy I know!). I love the first two albums, I love We Live, and liked the space doom sound of Black Masses a fair bit too. Make of that what thou wilt, and it shall be the whole of the law.
Yob — Clearing The Path To Ascend
Another album that people seem to be fawning over, but I feel I’m getting it all wrong somehow. Let me be clear, this is a good album! It’s a surprisingly diverse album, even a bit chilled-out at times. One track sounds like Scott Kelly on vocals, and in an interview I listened to, one of the participants assumed so as well. He was then left flabbergasted that it was mainman Mike using a voice new to all of us. Anyway, after many listens, I grew into Clearing The Path To Ascend more. But I’ve been following Yob since their first album Elaborations Of Carbon, and this is probably my least favourite Yob release. Still, that makes it better than most other albums.
Novembers Doom — Bled White
Novembers Doom are a long running American doom/death band that have mixed growled and clean vocals, and sped up the tempo over time. Somewhat like I mentioned about the changes in Monsterworks’ sound, Novembers Doom have pushed their music in all sorts directions, and they’ve been doing so for a few albums now. Bled White feels like an album where they should have focused one way or the other, rather than continuing to try and cover all bases. But, like most of the other albums I am mentioning here, Bled White is still good stuff!
Monster Magnet — Milking The Stars
Milking The Stars is a ‘reimagining’ of Monster Magnet’s previous release Last Patrol. That was an album I loved, and was the reason I flew to Sydney to see Monster Magnet in April this year. On Last Patrol, it was awesome to hear Monster Magnet moving back to more of a stoner vibe overall, and album definitely sounded retro. (You could imagine ye olde analogue equipment with glowing valves and whatnot.)
Milking The Stars ups the retro factor, particularly the use of keyboards. The songs generally sound the same from a writing perspective, and my ears are equally happy to hear either version. (That said, you probably don’t need two versions.) The disc is pitched as having four ‘new’ songs, but I think they are only new insofar as there’s been just enough changes that they aren’t a 1-for-1 match for Last Patrol. Finishing the disc with two live versions of Last Patrol songs doesn’t exactly increase the diversity either. Still, I’m happy enough to own and listen to Milking The Stars.