Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best of 2011


A LOT of what I saw getting on to others lists and hyped (be it in overground or underground circles) was a lot of “pretty good” or “half good”. Maybe its just time for a change but I’ve stepped away from a lot of the usual Black/Death/extreme Doom Metal, particularly the majority of new bands. If I never cared much about the glut of “dood, totally amazing nukleargoatfagosludgedeathtwarwankmetal” acts when I wasn’t too crazy about some of the stuff that influenced in the first place? (i.e. Incantation, Blasphemy). Basically it was hard to get excited about it as I had in previous years. Part of this was likely due to the general boredom & burnt out. Still, there were a few good things here & there within all the crud. 

Also, this was the first year I’ve made a list where I wasn’t doing a radio show. With that I think its allowed me to listen to things for longer and appreciate stuff instead of hear the first 10-15 seconds and ignore it  ‘cause it didn’t immediately grab me. Additionally, found a lot of great releases in other genres.

Unlike other years, these are in order of preference.

1Of The Wand and the Moon - The Lone Descent (Heidrunar Myrkrunar/Audio Globe) Denmark's Kim Larsen (and guests noteably John Murphy of SPK and Knifeladder) keep improving this mix of neo-folk and sullen ballads. However this album should really be heard outside of the usual neo-folk/gothic realm and for what it simply is -  a collection of brilliant, very remarkable songs. 

2. Amebix – Sonic Mass (Amebix Records/Easy Action) Yeah, it’s sounds like Amebix and one of their primary influences, Killing Joke. Don’t come ‘round expecting “Arise Part II” and just take it for what it is - a challenging record that forces you to hear them in a different setting. This pays off real well.

3. White Hills – Hp-1 (Thrill Jockey) Heavy psych/tripped out NYC trio/sometimes quartet released a lot of stuff in 2011 but this was their most consistent and a sign of what they’re capable of doing. They’re not just slamming down on the wah pedal for all eternity (but they’re damn good at doing just that, when it’s needed) and can space things out (literally and figuratively).

4. Ulver – War of the Roses (Jester/K-Scope) This took a few spins to get into but it was well worth it. Melancholic pop and ambience with touches of jazz and classical minimalism.  Wolves evolve as band leader, Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg said many an album ago and this another fine example.

5. Midnight – Satanic Royality (Hell’s Headbangers) Nothin’ too fancy or frilly - just riffs, attitude and diabolic incantations that invoke Venom, Motorhead and Bulldozer with even more blood curdling but super catchy vocals. This ain’t trendy or intentionally anti-trendy – just really down & dirty HM the way the dark lord intended. Along with Atomizer and Aura Noir, these guys have earned the keys to the 7 gates of hell.

6. King Dude -  Love (Dais) Echo-y, one man neo-folk act from Seattle (who really surprised me to find out that it was TJ Cowgill of black/death metallers Book of Black Earth) invoking everything from the very under the radar Changes  to Leonard Cohen to at times even dark country folk tunes.

7. AntiSeen – Exploding Barbwire Death Match - 7” (Green Mist) The gods of the TRUE Rock N’ Wrestlin’ connection continue their mayhemic ways with this ode to Japanese hardcore action featuring an ode to Mr.Pogo and Atushusi Onita’s brutal match described in full on title track. Also, keep on tearin’ it up with “Kill the Scene” a nasty cover of Jeff Clayton’s brother’s band, Mad Brother Ward and The Screamin’ Street Trash. They close it out with a cover of Cocknoose’s deadly good squared circle manifesto – “Invader #1 Must Die”. If you don’t know why they feel spite towards Mr. Gonzales go here). Bonus points for performing the title track on Chic-A-Go-Go in front of a bunch of confused dancing kids & their moms.

8Zombi – Escape Velocity (Relapse) OK, so they ditched most of their Goblin influence for waves of Italo-disco & Giorgio Moroder – I’m OK with this as it’s pretty hypnotic streams that at its best remind me of the in-between bits of ads for San Francisco’s Exploratorium circa: 1978 and other related 70’s futurism.

9. Oneothrix Point NeverReplica (Software/Mexican Summer) Electro-trip out ambience on one part. Weird cut ups, loopy warp-age on the other part. More of the first but the other part is quite interesting. It's far more than a guy on his lap top cutting up Mr. Coffee ads or checking his e-mail in some dull club. 

10. SubRosa - No Help for the Mighty Ones (Profound Lore) - Great mix of Doom Metal, and I dunno...a really moody version of The Pixies as Kim Pack's vocals remind me of another Kim (as in Deal). Curious to hear what their next one's gonna sound like. 

11. Negative Plane – Stained Glass Reflections (Anja Offensive) One of the few Black Metal releases that really kept my interest and attention. Lots of unpredictable change ups including a lot of twangy, almost surf tones along with other sort of early 60’s style twang influenced guitar, natural bass & drums, grim but expressive vocals instead of a generic, bored growl. Listen on headphones to get the full experience.

12. V/A: Urfaust/Celestial Bloodshed - split 7” (Terratur Possessions) Urfaust creates more slow, winding warbly darkness with simple drumming is what you find here another way gone “ohh-aahhhh” chorus leading down into the dungeons of an evil baron’s castle which “typically untypical” of Urfaust i.e.- it’s completely worthy. Norge’s Celestial Bloodshed brings a pretty killer, raw but very loud thrashy Black Metal attack with roaring vocals & no time for bullshit. Sort of similar of their country mates Koldbrann. Fuuuck, I wish I bought this now that it goes for $100 on discogs.

Runners Up:

Sun Araw – Ancient Romans (Sun Ark) Very interplanetary, melted psych oddities of celestial organs and spacious dub-drippings drooping down upon the galaxy. Yeah, I dig it but didn’t hear it ‘til 2012.

Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes (Atlantic) – Don’t care what the cool/uncool police say. I like at least ½ of it. Must be the melancholic Swede in me and there’s plenty of it here but I wish she’d not drag out choruses such as the one on “Unrequited Love” or drill in your ears the overused/abused “girl group” thing that everyone & their dog’s doing now (see “Youth Knows No Pain”). Otherwise, a pretty fine effort.

Barn Owl Lost in the Glare (Thrill Jockey) – This’ll take some more time to get into I think. For now it seems as if their quiet bits are just too quiet but overall an interesting mix of slowed down strums, lots of space between notes and psych.

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light (Southern Lord) Yep, they're still plenty pastoral and twangy but this was a too samey for an entire album to get into 100%. 

Absu – Abzu (Candlelight) – No question they can play like mad and make some interesting Black er…”mythological occult Metal”. Yet this time out the songs just speed by too fast without enough identity or moments long enough to latch on to. These songs might work well live but not so much on the record.

N.K.V.D. - Vlast (Those Opposed) French industrial Black Metal which sounds much more of the former than the latter. However, they do mix the bombast of both styles quiet well along with a historical and lyrical focus on (mostly) recent history in Europe and Russia. Each song is its own chapter on a specific topic, namely the very Thorns (Norway) sounding “Geheime Staats Polizei” deals with the Gestapo. Otherwise, the rest of the songs are focused on Milosevic and various members and events in the Cheneya region (namely Grozny, the Alkhan-Khan operation and Krasnodar Krai). Lots of promise in this act, hopefully they’ll do more topical tunes of terror and totalitarianism in the future. However, it might not be something I’d put on all that much, mind.

Hot Graves – Necros Mixos Sacrifico (Self-released) – Florida-based Black/Punk Metal meisters of a high order. No ultra-cult/collector nerdshit here. Just honest & real covers of several of their influences & inspirations done with their blackened hearts in the right place. Cover tunes of The Accused, Midnight, Floor, Roky Erikson, Discharge, Pentagram, and a Gwar/Cannibal Corpse maggot medley. Nice to hear not only the range of covers but the range of the talents – especially vocally.

Hell – Human Remains (Nuclear Blast) – Traditional HM from the UK whose roots go way back to 1982. I can remember reading about their 2nd demo in Metal Forces in ’84. Very good, theatrical vocals very catchy chorus but the downside is there’s far too many intros/interludes for it to work all the way. If they just gutted that, made a shorter release with the straight up songs it would be in a higher position.

Condemned 2 Death – C2D (Nuclear Blast) – Modern hardcore done by a bunch of old schoolers with an Attitude Adjustment connections. I remember their name appearing on several mix tapes & denim & leather jackets from my sister’s punker friends back in the 80’s. They’re back and sounding just OK but a tad too modern hardcore polish ‘ala much of what’s on Bridge Nine. However, the best part is that it comes with their first 7”, first EP/LP and demos which in this case are much better. Interesting to see they were one of the first ever bands signed to Nuclear Blast. Much rather hear this than the same ‘ol “hardcore hit parade” in the bars of S.F.

In Solitude – The World, Flesh, The Devil (Metal Blade) Swedish Mercyful Fate worship but with quite a bit of interesting riffs and moods of their own. As good as their songs can be in places they have a tendency to drag a bit especially in the middle of the album.

Kypck -  Below (Yellow House) Finns making melodic but still quite heavy doom Metal in Russian with a number of historical related lyrics in Russian. The album title means “beneath or below” very interesting stuff. More here

Prurient – Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head)  Haven’t heard a noise or noise-related album in a long time that’s actually done something to captivate my attention. With Domick Fennrow now part of Cold Cave, I’m sure he’s had to fend off notions that their synth based sound is now overlapping with his solo works but regardless, this is some trippy electronics. Prob. the only thing I’ve been able to enjoy on Hydrahead in a long time, too. “A Meal Can Be Made” is the best Skinny Puppy tune they never wrote. Mind bending, pulsating electronics. The album ender “Sugar Cane Chapel” sounds as if M83’s being tortured by left over bits of Whitehouse & Boyd Rice.

Megadeth – Thirteen – The guitars sound great, but the songs are just floating in nothing-ness for the most part. Going on Alex Jones’ show just proved Mustaine’s just getting weirder and weirder and not in the cool Urfaust way.

Nazareth – Big Dogz (Eagle) – Not their best by far and no Manny Charlton on guitar (but Jimmy Murrison’s no slouch). However, there’s no question that Dan McCaffetry can still belt it out and it’s plenty good to see ‘em still around.

Prince Rama – Trust Now (Paw Tracks) One of the bands I heard a lot on KFJC & WFMU but they’re half “whoa what’s this crazy, way gone stuff!??!” and half “what's with this wailing shit?” So, it’s a compromise but I just wish it was more of the first.

Satan’s Host – By The Hands of the Devil (Moribund) – Would’ve liked this much more with it wasn’t for the drum triggers. Still, Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin is still a helluva singer.

Volture – Shocking It’s Prey (Heavy Artillery) Lots of Priest, Priest and more Priest. But  instead of Sin After Sin it’s Ram It Down. Not bad but heard it 10,000x before.

Zodiac Free Arts Club – Floating World (Permanent Vacation) Greece via Germany early 70’s style tripped out electronic throbs & blips that’s more a current version of Tangerine Dream or Vangelis?

St. Anger awards for craptastic levels of achievement:

Botantist - Convolvulus Althaeoides (Tumult) - By the belly of Horgh – what a bunch of novelty crap masquerading as Black Metal. Morbid Angel -Illud Divinum Insanus (Season of Mist) – “Radikult” & soulless drums need I saw more? Litgury - Aesthethica (Thrill Jockey) – Really this should have about as much impact on Black Metal much less Heavy Metal as Stephen Hawking would in a steel cage vs.Necro Butcher. James Ferraro Far Side Virtual (Hippos in Tanks) He’s gone of the deep end with his new age obsession. Metreedica - “Lulu” (Warner Bros) – As awful the ballads on “Load & Reload” & Lou selling Honda motorcycles in the 80’s only worse? Fucked Up - David Comes Alive (Matador) - Bruce Springsteen goes "punk rock opera"? Count me out. VenomFallen Angels (Spinefarm) The good: Cronos vocals & bass sound. The bad: the songs sound he’s singing over 90’s Metallica. Check out “Hammerhead” and “Punk’s Not Dead” and you’ll know what I mean. It’s not 1000% horrible but no Abandon and no Mantas = no Venom. (Much less no Cronos, which they already tried & failed with). 

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