Jan 25, 2017
Best Viking Metal/Folk-influenced
Enslaved’s Ivar and Wardruna’s Einar put their heads together to compose for the 200th Anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. This is Norweigian folk: beautiful sweeping compositions that you can really melt into. This is the most folksy, ethnic, instrumental of the contenders with fully instrumental songs and choir-sung gorgeous passages dotting the album. Deep, sexy man singing in Norwegian. There is a GORGEOUS trumpet, holy shit, and black metal portions, and a darker, raspy, evil vocalist joining the fun. The album is complexly atmospheric, diverse, lovely and invariably creative.
Skuggsjá (Norway), album - A Piece For Mind & Mirror, song “Kvervandi” (0:28-6:50)
Moonsorrow (Finland), album - Jumalten Aika: Medieval is the atmosphere, where people sit around firepits and thump on drums. Men in animal skins and furs ride glorious horses, fists around spears, hair flowing behind them. This is the imagery created by the softest, romantic acoustic passages erupting in epic black metal.
Sig:ar:tyr (Ontario), album – Northern: Apparently this band started as a one-man band. I assume that any great one-man band will add members to their roster, I mean, who wants to continue doing everything. Of course acoustic folk guitars accompanied by even more guitars, and a hella focus on riffs. The vocalist is a guttural black rasp, with no hint of loveliness. So you know, it’s pretty cool.
Myrkgrav (Norway), album - Takk og farvel; tida er blitt ei annen: Last album from Myrgrav; the album title translates to “Thank you and farewell; Times have changed”. Guy doesn’t mince words. The violinist is a major player in this album; the fiddle is the national instrument of Norway. This is mostly classic folk with a very folk singer, so if that would get on your nerves, than so will this style.
Oh geez, two of my favorite Illinois hardcore bands pitted against each other.
Gawddammit, this is Weekend Nachos’ last album after 12 years together. They infuse hardcore, grind, punk, power metal, dirty crust and extreme wit into their unique sound. They are so punk, fucking punk dude (and other angry things); and hilarious with song titles like “Fake Political Song” (a great grindcore song) and “Dog Shit Slave”. I was like, how long can this feedback go? And it kept going. Assholes. This just felt real.
Weekend Nachos (Dekalb), album – Apology, song “2015” (9:03-14:47)
Oozing Wound (Chicago), album: Whatever Forever: I’m sure Oozing Wound are best friends with Weekend Nachos, right? This is their third album, with thrash, punk, sludge, and everything thrown in, tied in the coolest package. It’s a bit TOO cleanly produced, but that isn’t a terrible thing. Though, if they had a bit more raw ferocity, then they would have come out on top.
Trap Them (Boston/Seattle), album – Crown Feral: Trap Them sounds like Boston, they have that Converge brutalized hardcore sound, plenty of crust and crunch and prolific riffs. The lead singer jumped off a speaker during tour, breaking both feet, continued with the show and tour in casts. F’ing hardcore.
Head Wound City (San Diego), album - A New Wave of Violence: The most punk vocalist style, with a bit of shriek; he even goes a bit post-punk in parts. An angular punk album. Album came out after 11 years of silence; this is a supergroup: Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Locust.
Okus (Ireland), album – Scourge: Coolest album art of the group, a cool bird skull. Crusty, metallic, grind, intense as fuck.
Best Heavy Doom
Oh lord, of course this category had the most contenders. All different styles, so take your pic.
Holy shit, Spirit Adrift is a ONE-MAN doom band, with the guitarist from one of my faves, Take Over and Destroy! His vocals are a bit Pallbearish – huge compliment - emotional, lyric-heavy, full-range. He shines when he brings in a bit of joy into the melody, but I also liked that he wasn’t in a rush to fill in every second with density. Maybe because it was one person laying all the tracks, each instrument is given its due. So much patience. So be patient. This is just, delicious.
Spirit Adrift (Arizona), album – Chained to Oblivion, song “Hum Of Our Existence” (15:36-26:22)
Khemmis (Denver), album – Hunted: Fuck, these harmonizing guitars, gaining strength and force with every passing second, erupting in fist-pumping riffs, groovy when needed; and slowing down to aching melodies. But there is so much more, the vocalist encompasses a plethora of emotions, some of it funeral somber, a heaviness in lyrics, and still able to lift your soul. Fuck yes dude.
Beastmaker (Fresno), album – Lusus Naturae: This the debut album from Beastmaker, reveling in 70’s psychedelic, the bubbly side of heavy rock. Uplifting, cheery groove. I think these dudes are just going to get better; and excited to see them live.
The Temple (Greece), album – Forevermourn: This is more funeral doom – a very gloomy but fantastically riff-y and bringing forth the headbang. Fuck yeah, Greece. The lead singer is nominated in ‘Best Warm Vocals’.
Messa (Italy), album – Belfry: Led by the most gorgeous female vocalist (also nominated for ‘Best Warm Vocals’. Messa drones into massive leadups to headbanging. It is an investment.
Lord Vicar (Finland), album - Gates of Flesh: With members of Reverend Bizarre and Saint Vitus, this is a super group that doesn't get lazy, which is the fate of most ego-led supergroups. Incredibly underrated, and led by an incredible bluesy vocalist. This album was a close second.
Spiritus Mortis (Finland), album - The Year Is One: The first thing you will notice is the vocalist. He’s cheesy, but in that emotional hair metal way that we love. And he’s Finnish, so everything he does is awesome. I just wanted a few more songs to show their range, so I will wait for their next album. But this is a great gloom and doom, plaintive doom album.
Best Modern Rock/Noise Rock/Alternative
Best part? The vocalist is fucking amazing. She is sexy beyond. Then bring in elements of gloomy Chicago post-punk and disjointed noise, and all of it is romantic as fuck.
Ganser (Chicago), album - This Feels Like Living, song “Strategies For Living” (27:17-32:46)
Ex-Cult (Memphis), album – Negative Growth: Third full-length album. Danceable distortion and defiant pop. Engages in heavy use of drone-y and noisy electronic effects.
Drought Year (NC), album – S/T: Atmospheric-infused industrial groove mixed with the horror of deathrock, and the vocalist of a sludge band.
So Pitted (Seattle), album – neo: On Sub Pop and from Seattle. Thin, gritty, snarling and plaintive. Angry-pacing music - it’s a walking mosh pit sound. There is just so much here, don’t miss this album.
Whether aiming for shimmery or hardened, atmosphere is moody, ambient, emotional, and don’t follow traditional routes. The two top albums are one-person bands, which I am usually wary of, but these dudes created epic compositional albums, and should be celebrated for their genius.
A foot firmly in black metal, however Mizmor bubbles through the surfaces of doom and drone and atmosphere. The album creeps and slithers in a torturous pace, turning into a form of meditation. The sound invokes images of an unrecognizable alien landscape. We need to be pushed to these boundaries.
Mizmor (OR), album – Yodh, song “Bask in the Lingering” (33:14-43:16)
Alcest (France), album – Kodama: OK, this is more Heavy Gaze than atmosphere, but I had to fit Alcest somewhere, and they definitely are mood-making. A gorgeous, shimmering melodic masterpiece.
Old Graves (CAN), album – Long Shadows: One-man mostly instrumental atmospheric-heavy black metal.
Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock:
Chris Black is a god. He has a modern, groove-tastic take on everything old school. He speeds up the riffs; the guitars provide warm, engaging melodies; and the dude knows how to perk up your soul, making you yearn for a convertible, a warm summer night, and a loud car stereo. An emphasis on catchy lyrics, so you can sing along. “This is the night, this is the night we’ve been waiting for. This is the night, this is the night we go UP.” Nostalgic ear candy. I was reminded of High ‘n’ Dry.
High Spirits (Chicago), album – Motivator, song “Flying High” (43:39-46:56)
Sumerlands (Philly), album – S/T: The vocalist is one with the Force. He echoes emotion throughout, providing depth. Technical and masterful heavy metal guitars and a perfect vocalist, you can’t want for more.
Dawnbringer (Chicago), album – XX: So this is an EP, but I like it so much, I had to include it in one of the categories. It could be Dawnbringer’s last, which would be brutal to my heart. I love Chris Black so much, and I am so glad that he is prolific, because I am one of the cult followers.
Denner-Shermann (Denmark), album – Masters of Evil: Guitar solos were the highlight on this album. The vocalist has that epic, high-pitched style that may annoy you, but give him some room, he will rock it.
Now a duo. Howls of Ebb’s wicked vocalist whispers curses and speaks in tongue, an inhuman demonic growl other times. Galloping, disjointed, dramatic, chomping death and thrash, resting in horror atmospheric when the monster grows tired. The quiet parts were as powerful as the most technical and dense death; it was thoughtful and relentlessly innovative. I felt like I was watching a play.
Howls of Ebb (SF) album - Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows, song “Cabals of Molder” (47:48-53:52)
Mithras, album - On Strange Loops: Yet another duo concerned about creating unique compositions, each song so wildly different from each other. Yes, they are chaotic and technical as fuck, but I feel they aren’t in it to jack each other off. I fucking hate self-congratulating technical shit.
Ulcerate (New Zealand), album - Shrines of Paralysis: Maybe someone told the vocalist he needed to fucking shake it up, because it sounds way better on this album. Way more variation. Geezus, this is the heaviest, relentless shit, beating your ears into bloody pulp. They stand a head taller than any other band in technical prowess, oh fuck the density. This is a toxic, chaotic, incomprehensibly massive wall; yet each instrument breaks a path clearly.
Altarage (Spain), album – NIHL: Anonymous band. The vocalist growls melt over the dense, mostly fast and sometimes lumbering, atmospheric, technical wall of sound. It feels like drone, swarming all the instruments into one thick sound that is strangely meditative.
Witherscape (Sweden), album - The Northern Sanctuary: Hella proggy death with actual clean and very emotional singing mixed with growls; slowed-down, sparse, ballad-y passages; guitar solos, piano and melodic keyboard.
Like Rats (Chicago), album – II: All right, I have to admit the fact that Weekend Nachos has members in this band, I knew I’d be all over it. It’s way more tough boy, mainly because of the power vocals, not my favorite. They bring in their hardcore influence into the clean, stripped sound. It has that tuff mosh pit-circle stomp.
Best Warm Vocals
Greenleaf has been one of my favorite bands for years, so for them to suddenly change up the VOCALIST, the melodic and emotional leader of the band?! Well, they did it. Of course I should trust these geniuses, with members of Dozer and Truckfighters. The album was in the “Best Jam/Blues/Stoner” category, of course. The singer is soulful, ebullient, and arousing. AROUSING. Warm, honey vocals that make you climb out of your skin in glee, so personal, so expressive, so soulful. He makes you want to know every word.
Greenleaf (Sweden), album - Rise Above The Meadow, song “Howl” (54:24-59:45)
The Temple (Greece), album – Forevermourn: More plaintive and melancholy than the other vocalists, following the funeral doom sound of the band.
Lord Vicar (Finland), album - Gates of Flesh: Blues-driven vocalist on one of the best doom albums of the year.
Dawnbringer (Chicago), album – XX: Look, Chris Black nearly makes me cry when I hear him.
Messa (Italy), album – Belfry: The emotional vocalist is the melody in an otherwise stark, gloomy, drone sound.
Saturday Album and #1 Album of the Year
Saturday album is the record I listened to the most. This shit has to be varied as fuck, the vocalist needs to be my hot mama, and I never get sick of hearing it.
It’s almost unfair to all other bands when Oranssi releases their album. This is so innovative, avant-garde, experimental; and maybe you need to live in the forests of Finland, decompressed from the rest of the world, to allow your brain to go way out into the universe and bring back this nugget of musical truth. It is pure, it is madness, it will bring you religion.
Oranssi Pazuzu (Finland), album- Värähtelijä, song “Saturaatio” (1:00:40-END)
Runners-up (to Saturday Album):
Dawnbringer (Chicago), album – XX: Epic, is the sound of Dawnbringer. Chris Black is effortlessly nostalgic and emotional, but you haven’t heard this sound in those eras of past. He is completely original, and achieves somehow bringing back the rocker aspects of the 70’s and glam of the 80’s in the most excellent, non-contrived way.
Mizmor (OR), album - Yodh: Mizmor won my Best Atmosphere/Drone/Mood category. This album is beyond, it is the darkest album I listen to constantly. It makes me feel evil. You will hear something different every time you listen to this album, which is why it fits so well in this category.