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Year End List for 2014

I did no reviews last year. Therefore, I’m going to still do a top 10 list and disappointment list for 2014 releases. Without further ado, here goes my ten favorite releases from last year:

10: Junius – Days of the Fallen Sun EP: Stunningly heavy and dense without ever having to go into traditional metal tropes, Junius’ short release burned up my headphones for quite a long time in 2014.

9: Bloodbath – “Grand Morbid Funeral”: Yes, please, more with the heavy and the dark and the genuinely old school feel and vibe. I completely enjoyed this album.

8: Alcest – “Shelter”: Dream pop at its finest, but the overall sound lost contrast quickly when the intensity was removed.

7. Agalloch – “The Serpent & the Sphere”: A band, whose music is typically dense, melancholic, and reminiscent of the sky just before the clouds break, offers up a serving of the coldest, darkest music they’ve done to date in my opinion.

6. Devin Townsend Project – “Z2: Dark Matters”:  Campy, original, filled with fart jokes, and evoking a 50s radio play, this album’s jaunt through Dev’s witticisms is fun if not a touch too saccharine at points.

5. Behemoth – “The Satanist”: Ranked this high due to the sheer factor of sarcasm dripping from Nergal’s voice in the first track: “Blow your trumpet, Gabriel!”  I was never a fan before, but I find that I am now.

And, because I’m a massive and amazingly terrible writer that cannot make up his mind, I have 4 albums in a tie for the first spot, depending on my mood (which will be listed below) and these are in no particular order:

1d.) Causalities of Cool – “Causalities of Cool”: Dark, melancholic space country rock?  WTF, Dev?  This album has seriously some of the most amazing textures, rolling noise, and themes I’ve heard in a long time. Here’s “Ether” from that album that demonstrates this wonderfully:

I found myself gravitating to this when I was feeling extraordinarily stressed or needing to reflect.

1c.) Opeth – “Pale Communion”:  Holy shit, it’s not a jangled mess of riffs and thoughts. While I enjoyed Heritage, it was like a sentence fragment.  Here’s “Moon Above, Sun Below” from the album:

I found myself going to this one when I needed the melancholy feels from Opeth and when I wanted something openly and unrepentantly creative.

1b.) Solstafir – “Otta”:  This album defines Iceland in my mind now. It is stunningly gorgeous, filled with texture, and wonderfully performed. Here’s “Lagnaetti” from the album:

Similar to Casualties of Cool, I found myself coming to this album as I could when I needed a bit of stress relief. Even the abrasive moments are wonderfully performed and never out of context or character.

1a.) Tritypkon – Melana Chasmata”:  Oppressively heavy, stunningly depressive, and at times hauntingly beautiful, the album hits a progressive metal fan right in the gut and does everything it needs to do well.  Further it has a love poem dedicated to Emily Bronte on it. I enjoyed their first album greatly, but I didn’t get overwhelmed by it.

I came to this album again and again just because I wanted to hear it.  It appealed to times when I was down, but also times when I needed to explore a different headspace.

Biggest disappointments of 2014:

1.) Soen – “Tellurian”: Their first release, “Cognitive,” stunned me.  It was an amazing album.  This album I listed to maybe to or three tracks and switched to a different band and never went back.

2.) Encoffination – “III: Hear me, O Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs)”:  This album was on the list because if you are going to name yourself with something as off  the wall as this, then you better damn well be good.  They weren’t.

3.) Mayhem – “Esoteric Warfare”:  These are the fathers of Norwegian Black Metal?  Eeeeeesh.

Two Albums that Blew My Fucking Mind:

1.) Primus & the Chocolate Factory:  Like listening to the soundtrack only (no pictures) of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on LSD.  I need not say more.  Listen to this album.

2.) Cynic – “Kindly Bent to Free Us:” Like listening to the soundtrack of peace and harmony on LSD.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Accountability, Art, Lists, Music, Ranks

 

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Nocturnal Rumination: Hippie Metal, Pt 2.

Okay, so, I ended with the divergence of the Norwegian and Swedish metal styles, both of which still held this very strong naturalistic bent to their lyrical qualities and musical soundscapes, bringing us into the early 90s metal scenes that began the foundation for the modern Black Metal scene.

Amon Amarth, a Swedish Metal Band, focused on folkloric style lyrics (note that I’m not using Viking here, because the band states that they are not a viking band).  They are very much in line with the Swedish Death Metal style with skullpounding riffs, double bass drummed assaults, and a strong combination of nature and traditional life way lyrical themes and music.  Their album Once Sent from the Golden Hall (1998) began the exploration of this sound:

Finland’s Amorphis got in on the act three years earlier with their album Tales from the Thousand Lakes.  It is a doom filled exploration of Finnish National Identity and its relationship with nature and the land.  Their earliest release reminds of Katatonia with a bit more death metal energy than that band would ever show:

This would continue for Amorphis as they evolved and continued their style as well, slowly stripping their sound down and becoming more rock oriented with folksy sounds interjected.  Their most recent releases have worked with very specific ideas from the Kalevala, while their most recent release is an exploration of a concept of an unlucky man.

Ultimately, I choose these examples because of the Power Metal quality of both bands; the high concept lyrics and themes are very much from the Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon metal styles.  The degree to which this is ramped up is heavily dependent on the overall feel and atmosphere the band wishes to create.  With Amon Amarth, it seems to be very high, whereas with Amorphis at first it is a touch lower.

The black metal style continued to evolve, especially in the underground scene, and became more and more antagonistic to world religions in general. Taake, a band whose music I generally do not like and whose showmanship is highly questionable, began on the scene in early 90s as Thule and released as full length titled Nattestid ser porten vid in 1999 after several demos in the mid-90s.  They adhered fully and heavily to the Black Metal sound:

Taake continues to this day and is best known for using Black Metal Banjo on their song “Myr” off the album Noregs vaapen.

Ulver began in 1995 with Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler (Taken to the Mountain, a fairytale in five chapters).  In this black metal did not snarl straight for your throat, rather it became a cold backdrop of the mountains, evoking a dark, frozen landscape.  Ulver truly began setting the sounds of modern shoegaze influenced black metal on this piece and at the same time really emphasized the folk aspects of the style:

It demonstrated that black metal could be used to create mystery and that the sound could be more than the sum of its parts alone and could be incorporated into something far larger.

In the US, these styles were begin coalesced into the Technical Death Metal scene, specifically in Florida.  Early on, the themes had very little to do with nature at all.  Death, with their 1991 release Human, began this introspective approach in the States to very technical music and metal:

Cynic, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinnart, were instrumental players in this scene in 1993 on their initial release of Focus, bringing esoteric philosophy to the table.  Their Buddhist lyrics and duality between heavy and light, dark and bright, &c was a watershed moment:

Generally, the American scene was thrashier (owing to the Bay Area scene popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s), but was starting to bring in the acidic growls and the introspective, philosophical themes that the members of the bands believed.  It is a divergence from the Scandinavian styles in this vein, because it focused on the quantity of the soul and the mind rather than the physical.

This brings us to the oldest band of the burgeoning CBM scene in America: Agalloch.  Their 1999 release, Pale Folklore, extends from the aforementioned though most closely resembles Amorphis, Katatonia, and Ulver:

As they were the first to my knowledge, I choose to end this part here as I’ve hit 750 words and at this point for those of you still awake, you’ll start falling that much more asleep I’m certain.  We’ll continue tomorrow with the movement into the 2000s and the re-emergence of this style in several different places around the world.

 

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Art, Geek, Landscape, Music, Nature, Philosophy

 

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Weekly Music Review: The Ocean’s “Pelagial” (2013).

The Ocean - Pelagial

 

To this point, every bit of media I’ve seen on this album has been heaping praise on this album; so, I figured I’d at least listen to it and give my thoughts.  First, The Ocean is a “post”-metal group from Germany, whose music in the past has always bordered on Tool, Isis, Cult of Luna (though not nearly as electronic), &c territory.  If anything, they have a touch more sludge than any of those bands.  Another defining point of interest is their lyrical concepts and music.  They came to my attention with the “Anthropocentric” album whereby they are using the metal soundscape, particularly a dark and dense one, to discuss topics from Dostoyevsky and others relating to the human conceptualization of religion and God.

In 2013, the Ocean returns with “Pelagial,” a noun meaning “relating to the sea or the ocean.” It was derived from the Greek where the word meant relating to the deep sea. Off the bat, you know you are getting a concept album here.  In some of the band’s promotional materials, they noted that the album started as an instrumental with a solidly defined concept musical, using this extended metaphor, to take the listener farther and deeper beneath the waves; each song is named after a strata of oceanic layers which have been determined by the amount of life and the amount of light that can enter there.  Back to the album, the music was mixed and produced by Jens Borgen, meaning that the overall sound quality is beautiful.

The Ocean do nothing to hide the concept of this album: it is an exploration through metaphor of the human psyche from a classic Jungian perspective.  In fact, it is very nearly the same metaphor that Jung used.  In his writings, Jung revealed the he believed the psyche was like an iceberg.  According to the promotional media for the album, it was also influenced by the submarine genre of war films, most particularly Das Boot. The music begins very light, almost effervescent in quality, becoming more and more claustrophobic and turbulent as the album progresses.  The roils of turbulence are few at first, but increase as one goes deeper into their psyche to find the object of their fears and desires.  Lyrically, the concepts are well written and wonderfully played.  The instrumental work is gorgeous and the vocals play very, very well with the rest of the music, ranging from bluesy rock stylings to anguished screams.

Ultimately, this album should be the one for the Ocean to really snag listeners and taking them on this wonderful ride to the bottom of one’s mind.  However, unlike Blabbermouth, who stated this album to be an emotional leviathan, I wholeheartedly disagree: it’s an intellectual leviathan.  I never felt my emotions get swirled up into this vortex, but I did find myself thinking a lot about what the album was saying lyrically and evoking musically.  This was a demanding trip through the mind.  Further, the album represented nothing really that the band had done previously.  Yes, there were sludge filled moments of dense atmospheres and claustrophobic passages; however, they were much closer to a traditional melodic death metal sound with the majority of the piece instrumentally.  I found this, like nearly everyone else that reviewed this album, to be a logical step for the band’s musical progression.  Yet, at the same time, why does the Ocean get a pass here?  Other bands who are branching out into new sounds to explore different emotions or thoughts are often lambasted by the metal community, why not the Ocean as well?  They diverged from their sound, successfully I might add, much in the same as Opeth and even Dark Tranquility yet both these bands are reviled for doing so. Even Agalloch saw criticism for cleaning up their production for Marrow of the Spirit (which was an amazing album in 2011).  To me, this is the only Ocean album I’ve enjoyed from start to finish.

Even so, why do I still yet have reservations in my mind over this album?  I’ve written now nearly 700 words on the piece and I do not feel like I’ve resolved this work completely.  Therefore, I must add this: I find this concept to be wholly trite.  Look, if this was the Ocean’s first album or if this is their first album of a new sort of musical journey, I would be willing to give a band, calling themselves the Ocean, writing an album called Pelagial a pass.  Being that this is their sixth album and the concepts behind their second through fifth albums were so heady and well considered, this just seems far too easy artistically for them.  Yes, the music was perfect for it and yes the lyrics were too, but ultimately, I feel like this was just too damned easy for them.  This does not mean the album was bad; the opposite is very much true.  It is a wondrously expansive and thoughtful piece deserving many listens to fully digest musically.  But, lyrically and conceptually, it’s over the first time you listen through the lyrical pieces.  I find myself listening to the instrumental more.  Overall, I recommend the instrumental version of the album more than the lyrical version, because it’s open to more interpretation.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Accountability, Art, Music, Reviews

 

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Rumination: Hippie Metal. Seriously.

Okay, so, in reading this article from Invisible Oranges, I kinda have to agree with Tim Hunter here. Cascadian Black Metal is kinda bullshit term of over eager journalists seeking to define a movement within art so they can be that one damn person that say “YEP, I DEFINED THAT SHIT FIRST GUYS!”  So, I used a farce of a title for this post because I could, but let’s trace the heritage of this particular set of post black metal soundscapes, often mixed with shoegaze and folk elements.

Side note here: I hate the post genre designation as much as Hunter hates the CBM designation.  I find it trite and foolish: the use of black metal in non black metal situations? Just what IS a black metal situation, what is a particular movement that defines as non-black metal?  So stickiness aside here, I’ve used it in the past and I’ve tried to get around it and I’ll probably fuck up again.

So, we have all these bands that play music from a Black Metal style, but are attempting to phrase it in a completely different context than what was originally conceived as being Black Metal.  So, let’s off for a history lesson!  Just so you know, Burzum and Mayhem will be completed ignored by this discussion.  I cannot put into words the vitriol and contempt with which I hold this situation and a particular individual.  Therefore, any influence shall be ignored.

Venom is credited with being the progenitor of the Black Metal style because of one song they wrote: “Black Metal.” However, I far more agree that the Black Metal style originated in Sweden with Bathory’s frontman Quorthon.  His 1988 release Blood, Fire, Death took thrash metal stylings, added a ferocious snarl, and discussed things uniquely metal (e.g.: the acrostics in a few of the songs in which he talks about Satan) and then used the poem of Erica Jong,For All Those Who Died,” to discuss the pains of the heathen in the face of the church.

Over his next releases, Quorthon kept incorporating traditional Power Metal lyrical stylings and began calling his music Viking Metal.  The second wave included two separate movements: one in Norway and one in Sweden.

In Norway, Black Metal codified around speed and chaos, yet still held onto the themes of heathenism and sometimes Satanism (see: Gorgoroth, specifically).  Enslaved released in 1994 an album that AllMusic believed to continue the banner of this particular style of music.  As noted, the song is closer to speed metal, but combines symphonic elements in a keyboard and a snarling, shrieking vocalist.  Below is the first song off this album:

Emperor offered in 1994 their album In the Nightside Eclipse on which “The Majesty of the Night Sky” was released.  Offering tremolo picked chaos in describing the night sky, the song is another example of the use of Black Metal to discuss natural themes and traditional folk elements similar to 1960s-1970s folk:

Dodheimsgard too continued the sound in some means, adding a deeper, richer rhythm section, and a touch more industrial feel while continuing the speed and chaos of the Norwegian style.  Here’s a good example of their sound from 1995:

Enlsaved, Ihsahn, and Dodheimsgard are both still active. Enslaved focuses on providing a progressive experience, constantly pushing and working with their sonics to craft interesting music.  Emperor broke apart two albums too late, before Ihsahn snaked off to a solo career in which he destroyed himself in effigy it seemed and then rebuilt himself.

In Sweden, this still took off as well.  A good number of bands that play the modern Black Metal style, pushing past sheer chaos into melodic warmth and folk based lyrics, state that their influence comes from Katatonia.  I’m using Brave Murder Day as my example as it is the album with which I am most familiar; however, earlier releases from 1994 are even better examples of this style:

In contrast to the Norwegian movement, the Swedish movement slowed it down, giving it doom metal aspects, and even rock elements (see Katatonia’s later releases).  Even Opeth got in the act on their first album with “The Forest of October”:

This would be a sound that they continued into My Arms, Your Hearse and still sometimes revisit as they did on Ghost Reveries (with “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”) and Heritage (with “Folklore” and “Famine”).  Though Opeth is often critically and financially more successful, Katatonia is credited as an influence more often than the modern bands. This codified into the Swedish Death Metal movements, thanks to other bands such as Dark Tranquility:

Tomorrow, we’ll move this past the mid 1990s into the later half of that decade to the present.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Art, Geek, Music

 

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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Agalloch’s “Into the Painted Grey”

Enjoy

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Art, Music

 

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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Agalloch’s “The Watcher’s Monolith”

Enjoy:

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Art, Music, Nature

 

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Diurnal Aural Experiences: Agalloch’s “To Drown” (2010)

In homage to our wet 48 hours.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Art, Goofballery, Music, Nature

 

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