Tue, 17 January 2017
Sludge is the very dark evil cousin of doom; with brutal vocals, a dense wall of sound, and both epically slow AND frenetic tempos. As with most of my categories, the bands dip their toes in multiple genres.
Anciients’ debut album was one of my favorites of 2013. This 2016 album is WAY darker. Dual vocal style: one guttural, one proggy; and none of it is contrived. Shit kicks into the best riffs, so epically headbang-worthy. This is proggy without the cheese; it’s epic and fist-pumping. They shine when the sound cleans up to beautiful, complex, epic, sweeping, emotional, organic compositions. It feels fresh, and that put them over the top.
Anciients (CAN), album – Voice of the Void, song “Pentacle” (0:28-5:57)
Tombs (NYC), album – All Empires Fall: I love the vocalist of Tombs. Fun Fact: he has his own coffee (Savage Gold – named after a Tombs’ album). And then they added Fade (of Batillus fame) to their roster, and I was head over heels. Fade is also a big industrial mastermind, so he brings in the evil electronics here. I feel like Fade has made them way darker, which is awesome.
Wolves Carry My Name (Germany), album – Black Earth Tongue: This was overlooked by everyone, except me, because I rule. This is one of the grooviest metal albums out there. As with all sludge, this is dense as fuck, led by the hottest snarl of a vocalist. Another free album: https://wolvescarrymyname.bandcamp.com/album/black-earth-tongue
Inter Arma (VA), album – Paradise Gallows: I’m wary of super popular (underground) bands. If a ton of people relate to it, then is it truly good underground music (i.e. the suckage of Mastodon)? But this album has so many great things: Sweet acoustic parts, a gorgeous, emotional crooning vocalist who erupts when necessary. These guys are the kings of EPIC, massive sound; sounding like ‘Enemy of the Sun’-era Neurosis.
Cobalt (CO), album – Slow Forever: The original duo of Cobalt ended 2015 in public social media battle, sort of like CNN and Trump. It ended with one of them holding the reins of Cobalt, and adding the vocalist from Lord Mantis. What a boon, the vocalist is expert in intensity, desperate and emotional. For a duo, this strong of a vocal is a must. And holy shit, the original member did all the instrumentation.
Black Tusk (GA), album – Pillars of Ash: Last record with the late Jonathan Athon (original bassist and vocalist). The band took this last year to put this album together. Dudes have an influx of stoner, hardcore and punk energy. These are dirty, fun, southern-rock swampy tunes.
Best Black Metal
SO much excellent black metal to weed through, to distill into these magnificent picks. The top (3) were debut albums!
This is groove and melody-oriented black metal, you’re gonna want to headbang. Shit is so crunchy and dynamic and fist-pumping. Fun. FUN, remember that concept? You fucking cynical bastard. But, don’t get me wrong, this is true black metal – raw, somber, bitter, angry, harsh. The vocalist howls, fucking howls, gave me chills bro. It doesn’t sound like other American black metal bands, with their focus on density. These are simple and raw, technically-perfect, emotionally-laden, furious black metal with an emphasis on melody. I thought it was perfect.
Uada (Portland), album – Devoid of Light, song “Our Pale Departure” (7:47-14:32)
Wode (UK), album - S/T: Wait, this is their debut? Dense as fuck black metal showers relentlessly, both old school and modern, as it stomps around with a bit of death-style. Lots of attention to melodies, which is what this lady needs. When they slowed down, it just became so evil.
Anicon (Brooklyn), album – Exegeses: Debut album with members of Yellow Eyes, Krallice/Geryon, so it is super Brooklyn, and a huge part of the NYBM scene. It leans towards emotional and epic guitar melodies, and when they harmonize, fucking A. The complexities of the arrangements is also where this band shines. These guys are romantic as fuck, but man do they deliver the headbang.
Entropia (Poland), album – Ufonaut: Drumming stands out here, varied, proggy, tight. Tempo increasing to the frenetic black core. Yet, this album never feels relentless, which I like.
Imperium Infernalis (Greece), album – Imago Dei: Second album from this band. Shit is so tight and angular and fast, felt a bit thrashy.
Forteresse (CAN), album - Thèmes Pour La Rébellion: This is the sweeping, triumphant, riding the dragon, full-production black metal, but without the emotional post-metal side. This is the densest of the bunch, and when you think you can’t handle it anymore, they give you some variation.
The hardest category for me, very year, trying to determine the best blues rock, jamming out, 70’s boogie, rifftastic album. The bands in this category often have multiple, if not all the members singing, as vocals are a big part of the sound. I love every single one of these bands and albums. This was a close competition, so it really came to variation in the album, depth of SOUL, the hotness of the vocalist, and the guitarist(s) grooving way out.
Brimstone’s new (3rd full length) album was profoundly gorgeous. Down and dirty southern style charm, with the warmest whiskey vocals. These guys even harmonize between the three of them on the vocals, hella treat. A huge album that warms up, burns down and makes your head spin. Dudes fucking jam. Ballads make you cry. Shit is magic. Reminds me of Eloy, Paice Ashton Lord and other crooning 70’s psychedelic rockers. These guys really fucking let loose.
Brimstone Coven (WV), album - Black Magic, song “Beyond the Astral” (15:05-21:57)
Asteroid (Sweden), album – III: Your brain is in a bubble floating so high. Swedish psychedelic builds up so deliciously, the jams get intense.
Scorpion Child (Austin), album - Acid Roulette: Everyone knows Scorpion Child right? They are Friday nights, drinking beer against a muscle car, kickin’ it, rockin’ it, groovin’ it. Lyrics stroke your penis. The songwriting is what puts this album over the top. If the radio still played killer rock, this catchy album would be blasted on FM fo SHO.
Greenleaf (Sweden), album - Rise Above The Meadow: 6th album from fuzz jamming rockers Greenleaf, with guitarist from Dozer. Album is more structured, but the guitar solos are excellent when they appear.
Akasava (France), album – Nothing at Dawn: It sounds like the vocalist is hiding something, he is naughty and a bit wicked. Occult mixed with stoner, this sounds is more experimental than the other bands. Dissonant and transcendental, a surprise of an album. It’s Satan worshiping with tons of bong hits.
Spiritual Beggars (Sweden), album - Sunrise to Sundown: Super strutting rocker, the vocalist with a bit of Chris Cornell-style. They excel when they dipped into the soft, the ballads.
Duel (Austin), album - Fears of the Dead: Jean-clad hip swivels, rock groove, 70’s style badass attitude.
My favorite part of this year is that all the finalists are so different from each other.
Proggy, angular thrash with scifi storyline, how can you not love this band. Even better, the band shows their charm in live shows, period. You will be amazed at their ferociously clean twists and turns. If you don’t like the vocal style, which is this insane throaty raspy screech, it may get in our way of enjoying the amazing thrash hooks, but I doubt it. Vektor’s hooks are the best in the industry.
Vektor (Philly), album – Terminal Redux, song “Cygnus Terminal” (22:58-31:12)
Deströyer 666 (AU), album - Wildfire: The standouts here are melody and groove. It is part bar thrash, with choruses to shout out, while sloshing beer on your feet. But then they go darker, deeper, and will make you sneer. The vocalist is versatile, able to sing and add to melody; but also raspy and evil when needed. They don’t fall into the mediocrity of plain old aggression; these are fucking thoughtful songs.
Desaster (Germany), album - The Oath of an Iron Ritual: This is these dudes’ 8th full-length album, and another thrash and black metal combo. Thick, energetic, Satanic sound; and just like Deströyer 666, these dudes want to party. Holy shit though, the riffs have the power of Satan and rip through your neck.
Witchery (Sweden), album - In His Infernal Majesty's Service: Riff-tastic, groove thrash pumped with energy and fucking Swedish soul. Short and sweet songs, stays clean, not over-powering aggression which can get one-note and boring. The guitar solos were old-school heavy metal, ripping into powerful riffs, and a touch of punk, just a tad, making this super fun.
Suicide Angels (Greece), album - In His Infernal Majesty's Service: 6th album, first in 9 years. They live in the land of revitalist thrash, chugging mosh pit style, not super-fast tempo. Heavy metal guitar solos, love it.
Nerd metal is angular, mathematical, and proggy with a hint of middle-age.
The Mass reunited to make one more album in their old age. They are still the abstract, angular, avant-garde weirdos that you know and love. This album brings forth their looser, psychedelic side providing so much vivid texture to an already tight, innovate, experimental sound.
The Mass (Bay Area), album – Ghost Fleet, song “Don't Go Whaling High” (31:49-36:02)
Gojira (NYC), album – Magma: Two brothers make up Gojira, originating in France, now in NYC. During recording they lost their mom, and this in turn they said affected their sound and songwriting. You can hear the thread of melancholy. This is a super melodic album, but still big build-ups to often intense violence and fury.
Car Bomb (NYC), album (Meta): Actually produced by dude from Gojira, small incestuous community. Whip-fast tempo changes, proggy vocals mixed with brutal calculatingly cold vocals, furious speeds.
Frontierer (Scotland), album - Orange Mathematics: This album was completed in late 2015, repressed and released in 2016. Incorporated electronic sounds breaking apart cold technical brutal math beats. The dudes even have math in the name of their album. Lovely fellows even have a free download: https://frontierer.bandcamp.com/album/orange-mathematics.
Ritual Howls’ album is a dark cavern of old school deathrock, old school industrial, electronica and hella goth. When it’s good you want to dance; and shit if this didn’t make me wanna pull up my big black platform boots. You better look good in your black make-up and leather outfit at their show. Oh, my favorite type of bitches.
Ritual Howls (Detroit), album - Into The Water, song “Spirit Murder” (36:34-41:09)
Soft Kill (Portland), album – Choke: Soft Kill is dancing on a stormy night in a trench coat. It is pure emotion and the pain of nostalgia. You want to dream in this sound. NEED I SAY MORE.
Sievehead (UK), album – Buried Within: OK, this is a 7”, but this band seems to just release EP’s and 7” albums. Attitude, man. Good music is fucking attitude, that drenches your brain in imagery. When sound reaches image, you know it’s good.
Maudlin (Atlanta), album – S/T: I love deathrock and darkwave for many reasons, but one big one is that these bands highlight female vocals so well. Maudlin is headed by a top-notch female deathrock/dark punk vocalist. 80’s style shit, which to me, is the top echelon.
Brothers (Nashville), album – S/T: Oh, this album is noise and boys and anger, but in a post-punk way. So frigging good. Free download: https://tapesofaneongod.bandcamp.com/album/brothers
Theologian/Lament Cityscape (NYC/Oakland), album – Soft Tissue: OK, sure, this is a split, bit it’s a hell of an industrial album. Yes, it has some hella noise and drone, but all of that is also. . .industrial.
Masses (AU), album – Moloch: Dual vocals of female and male, poppy, infectious and happy. Reminds me of a darker B-52’s and a touch of Dead Can Dance with some deathrock thrown in.
One of the hardest categories to determine, every album is made up of 234 billion songs, 30 seconds long. Grind expels bursts of violent energy; a great album makes the bursts diverse and memorable. These guys must pack personality and punch into a spoonful measurement of sound. Fucking difficult, and who are these weirdos that wanna do shit like that?
“Shit yeah bro” is what you say when you hear this debut full-length Vermin Womb album. Vocalist from Primitive Man fucking howls perfectly. Fortunately, Vermin Womb is way more dynamic and furious than Primitive Man. Maybe purists will say there is too much sludge and crust to make this truly grind, but fuck that. Shit just makes the album great.
Vermin Womb (Denver), album – Decline, song “Cancer” (41:38-44:31)
Rotten Sound (Finland), album – Abuse to Suffer: These bros growl in fucking the hottest sounding Finnish ever. Pummeling you with a bat. Everything I write is sexual.
Gadget (Sweden), album – The Great Destroyer: The Swedish don’t ever retire. These dudes have been around since the 90’s, and this is their first album in ten years. This is the exhaustive type of grind (is there another kind); relentless with no soft edges. The hardcore thread injects texture.
Neid (Italy), album - Atomoxetine: Neid produces thick grind – the type that totally breaks down into a gripping, gnarly headbang.
Best Evil Vocals
This album is also listed in Best Avant Garde (below!), one of my favorite categories. The vocalist here IS the atmosphere. Raspy perfection in horror hypnosis. One of the best evil sounds I have heard, ever. But of course, the album and band must be as perfect and compelling – this was one of the best albums of the year. A great industrial album, bringing in some great electronic vocal effects.
Terra Tenebrosa (Sweden), album – The Reverses, song “Ghost at the End of the Rope” (45:33-49:41)
Bethlehem (Germany), album – S/T: Bethlehem is led by a raging witch. She screams her rage, and feeds the evil demon living way deep in your soul.
Best Extreme Experimental
This category is the cold, brutal side of the avant-garde spectrum.
First off, you can get the whole Plebeian Grandstand album for free. https://plebeiangrandstand.bandcamp.com/album/false-highs-true-lows. The intensity is meditation, bringing you into what you will believe is cosmic consciousness. The vocalist is a high point, with raspy howling and the screams from hell. He envelopes the entire conceptual brutality to perfection.
Plebeian Grandstand (France), album – False Highs, True Lows, song “Tributes and Oblivions” (50:15-55:29)
Convulsif (Switzerland), album – IV: Hypnotic, menacing, experimental jazz drone and grind, with clarinet and violin. The clarinet screeches and speaks, and your brain is more than happy to follow the sound of its voice.
Gnaw Their Tongues (Netherlands), album - Hymns for the Broken, Swollen And Silent: GTT is really into horror soundtrack. This sound can fit behind any gory, menacing, demon story, and scare the shit out of you. Each song contains its own crazed, swarming, chaotic brutal world. The lead singer speaks in tongue.
Gorguts (CAN), album - Pleiades' Dust: It’s a pet peeve when a band doesn’t break the album into songs. Yes, I get it, it’s one large package. So are all other albums, whose song placement is very meaningful. The EP’s build-ups, the individual instrumentation, the looser, abstract melody, was where I thought they excelled. The other bands in this category had individual songs that stood out, and taken as a whole, this Gorguts’ song is a good fit here.
Balance Interruption (Ukraine), album – Door 218: This is the third full-length from BI. The bass guitar makes an unusual funk appearance, and then the sexy saxophone croons a new age melody. But somehow, it all fits with the guttural, ferocity of the vocalist, riffs and drumming.
Cognizant (TX), album – S/T: What took this out of the grind category? Cognizant is also proggy, angular, and contains underlying melody. They break down into the pace of death at times, and all of it is surprising.
Best Avant-garde and #2 Album of 2016
This Parisian duo delved into spectacular industrial, with hella thick electronic erupting in parts. But above everything, it is a journey. With spectacular riffs, the album spins and reverses to the most satisfying breakdowns, going into gnarly as fuck creep and horror and grit and tension and drone and space and even lounge. Oh the groove in the midst of menacing. It is surprising, electric, eclectic, and lovely. You can even dance to parts. And besides a few shrieks, no vocals, because they are completely unnecessary. When I first heard it almost a year ago, I immediately thought: I think I found my Best Album. I went back and forth with this one, and my # 1 album (announced next week). Sophie’s choice.
Spektr (France), album – The Art to Disappear, song “From the Terrifying to the Fascinating” (56:17-END)
Oranssi Pazuzu (Finland), album- Värähtelijä: Oh these magnificent Finnish beasts. A richly thick album with incredibly original compositions up your butt. Weird Finnish brains. Psychedelic black metal dreamscapers.
Terra Tenebrosa (Sweden), album – The Reverses: Vocalist won the ‘Best Evil Vocals’ category. Terra Tenebrosa is the modern industrial-influenced metal. But it is old school industrial, in that it is truly experimental and demented. Industrial was all about pushing the envelope in musical boundaries.
Hail Spirit Noir (Greece), album – Mayhem in Blue: Ah fuck, I love how Hail is campy carnival horror metal. This is a warmer side to the avant-garde category, with flutes (I think?) and organ. Just, charming.