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Hello, friends.  Not too much is shaking ’round Spinal Tapdance HQ today, but I was thinking that maybe I’d like to send a mixtape to each and every one of you.  But then, of course, real life intrudes.  Logistics, &c.  The mind boggles.

So, please accept this poor substitute; namely, a “mixtape” in the form of a whole mess of YouTube links.  Still, these are some of the jams that have been helping me beat the heat around here.  Enjoy!

1. Amorphis – “The Castaway” (1994)

2. Dream Theater – “Stargazer” (Rainbow Cover) (2009, original 1976)

3. Sleep – “Dragonaut” (1993)

4. Unearthly Trance – “God Is A Beast” (2008)

5. Swans – “I Remember Who You Are” (1989)

6. Devin Townsend – “Material” (2000)

7. Madder Mortem – “Formaldehyde” (2009)

8. Anaal Nathrakh – “Do Not Speak” (2004)

9. Neurosis – “Locust Star” (1996)

10. Nick Drake – “Cello Song” (1970)

Please have a (mostly) Very Heavy Metal Wednesday.

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Hey, why not have 26 more or less random recommendations?  With many of these, I may try to highlight slightly lower-profile acts that I think are deserving of more attention.  With some of them, I’m just stricken down by the almighty power of the fucking riff thunder, and thus find myself unable to do anything but recommend them whilst my arms flail frantically in uncontrollable air-drumming.

1. Across Tundras, Dark Songs of the Prairie.  This album is bleak, desolate, and totally awesome.  If you’re looking for a companion piece to Earth’s Hex album, or especially to The Gault’s sole (and magnificent) album Even As All Before Us, look no further.  A perfectly evocative title, some pleasingly tough-to-classify jangly-type doom, or maybe post-metal-ish drone?  Hard to say, but the vocals are slightly off in that way which suits the music just right.

2. Black Witchery, Upheaval of Satanic Might.  I’m not in the mood for this very often, but when I am, blasting Black Witchery is the fix for just about any funk.  Completely trashy, crypt-sodden black/death metal which sounds like it wasn’t produced so much as heard over a rusted-out radio through a neighboring building, recorded to a dubbed-over tape, which was then pissed on and set ablaze.  Filthy metal for bastards.

3. Control Human Delete, Terminal World Perspective.  A black metal and industrial/electro hybrid which, instead of aiming for the grimier, urban blight soundtracks of The Axis of Perdition or Blacklodge, paints a slick modern sheen with its grand gestures at futuristic rage and decay.  More Blade Runner than Rust Belt, let’s say.

4. Doomriders, Darkness Come Alive.  One of last year’s absolute best face-melters.  I’m not so much interested in quibbling over whether this is more hardcore or metal, punk or classic heavy posturing.  This is Converge goes Motorhead.  This is song after song of relentless metallic glory, and your ears are begging for it.

5. Ewigkeit, Conspiritus.  This project from James Fogarty, ex-of Meads Of Asphodel, is actually fairly poppy, but features some really tasteful electronic and experimental heavy/vaguely-black metal.  A bit like a more contemplative Control Human Delete, in terms of this here list, but with more space to catch one’s breath.  Maybe think of a more heavy metal latter-day Frontline Assembly, plus a bit of Devin Townsend.

6. Frost, Cursed Again.  Complete and utter (DMDS-era) Mayhem worship from Mick Kenney (he of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress, etc., etc.), which even features Attila on vocals here and there.  Whereas Anaal Nathrakh took the basic blueprint of Mayhem’s foundational black metal blasting and amped up the filth by adding a layer of industrial atmosphere and grinding intensity, Frost put that filth back where it started, with some seriously no-frills blasting and doomy stomping.

7. God Dethroned, Passiondale.  This band didn’t get nearly enough love for this World War I-themed album of supremely classy and melodic death/black metal.  The title track, in particular, is apt to get stuck in one’s head for days upon days of musical trench warfare (eh?).

8. Havoc Unit, h.IV+ (Hoarse Industrial Viremia).  This band is the successor to …And Oceans, but where that band’s slicker electro-leanings (particularly on Cypher, which had that mid/late-90s cyber-goth feeling about it) proved occasionally wearing, Havoc Unit are full-on harsh and experimentally noisy black metal.  Rabid density is the order of the day here.  Somewhat akin to a metallic version of Venetian Snares’ harsher albums.

9. In The Woods…, HEart of the Ages.  Okay, so I was going to pick Iperyt’s Totalitarian Love Pulse for my ‘I’ recommendation, but figured I was already leaning a little too much on the avant-garde industrial/black hybrid.  Chances are it’s been too long since you played this album.  Compared to their later works Omnio and Strange in Stereo, HEart of the Ages occasionally comes off as clumsy and over-ambitious, but this actually increases its charm for me.  These folks were at the very forefront of the black metal avant-garde: this album was out in 1995, the same year as Ved Buens Ende’s Written In Waters and Fleurety’s Min Tid Skal Komme.  Not a fucking bad year, right?

10. Jarboe & Justin Broadrick, J2.  So, this collaboration doesn’t come off quite as successfully as Jarboe’s collaborative album with Neurosis, but she, ex- of Swans, and he, ex- of Godflesh and current of Jesu, Greymachine, Final, and God knows what else, work quite well together.  If you’re expecting this album to sound like any of JKB’s heavier projects plus Jarboe’s unearthly vocals, you may be a bit disappointed.  To their credit, I think, this album sounds like an out-and-out collaboration, rather than Jesu + a different singer.  Well, maybe except “8mmsweetbitter.”

11. Kvist, For Kunsten Maa Vi Evig Vike.  I just can’t plug this album enough.  It’s got that perfectly compressed production feel, where the drums just rip along effortlessly.  Folks here went on to form Urgehal, so there’s clearly a great legacy, but for me, this is where it’s at.

12. Lysergene, Critical Mass.  Okay, so this one’s not really metal.  This is a side project from one of the guys in British extreme/funeral doom stalwarts Esoteric.  This is a collection of lengthy, thick pieces of various kinds of electronic experimentalism, from dark ambient to drum and bass and industrial soundscapes; it actually makes a pretty decent companion to some of Esoteric’s work (particularly their earlier pieces of soul-corroding bleakness, Epistemological Despondency and The Pernicious Enigma).

13. Menace Ruine, The Die Is Cast.  Second album from these weirdos.  The first record was a lot more industrial and harsh noise.  This one trades in a bit of that, but throws in vocals that recall none other than Nico, were she to be wrapped in power lines and thrown into a bottomless pit, left to cast her songs up out of the vanishing darkness.  They’ve got a new album out, too, which I’m hoping will eventually drop to a more reasonable import price.

14. Nasheim, Evighet/Undergång.  Compilation of the demos from this Swedish black metal band.  Nothing groundbreaking here, but these are artfully crafted pagan black metal anthems for connoisseurs.  Plus, this release tacks on a faithful cover of Bathory’s “Blood Fire Death.”

15. Orange Goblin, Healing Through Fire.  A previous rant on stoner metal notwithstanding, this album absolutely RIPS.  Messing with these guys would be like just plain asking for a broken bottle kiss on your ribcage.

16. Pyramids, Pyramids.  See my review of Pyramids’ collaboration with Nadja for a sense of what they might sound like.  But then, throw out any thoughts of what you think they might sound like, and just listen to ’em, because I guarantee they don’t sound quite like anything else you’ve heard.  Truly mesmerizing stuff.

17. Primordial, The Gathering Wilderness.  Yeah, I know – fuck you.  I don’t own any metal that starts with ‘Q’.  Sure, I could have plugged a recommendation for Queensryche, or even Queen’s Night at the Opera, or maybe even post-Kyuss groovesters Queens of the Stone Age, but instead, I’ll use this poor under-utilized letter’s slot to plug Primordial’s best album.  Hands down.  This album is damn near perfect.  If you haven’t heard it, well, I’m not going to be overdramatic and suggest that your life has no meaning, or that we’ll have to revoke your metalhead credentials or anything, but please: Go listen to it.

18. Reverend Bizarre, In the Rectory of the Bizarre Reverend.  Long, slow, drawn-out classic doooooooom from Finland.  I waited way too long to check these guys out because I thought their music would be boring.  Turns out my brain just wasn’t ready to be dragged down to experience the world on the Reverend’s terms.  But I am ready now.

19. Stormlord, Mare Nostrum.  Truly epic blackened power metal from Italy.  I can’t believe you aren’t listening to this right now, as you read these words.  This shit is so tasty.

20. Thralldom, A Shaman Steering the Vessel of Vastness.  Final album from Thralldom, one of Ryan Lipynsky’s many filth-encrusted metal ventures outside of Unearthly Trance.  It’s frankly astonishing, the number of moods and textures that are presented in each of Thralldom’s uniformly brief albums.  Less driving and Celtic Frost-y than Unearthly Trance’s last two albums, but never quite losing the plot in a thicket of ambient sound effect fuckery.

21. Unholy, The Second Ring of Power.  More slow, slow doom from Finland, but this from the mid-90s, and sounding altogether possessed by evil static demons.  You can call this doom/death if you like, M-A.com, but there’s way too much avant-garde weirdness going on (especially for 1994!) for such a conventional label.

22. Void, Posthuman.  Another black/industrial act, this time featuring Czral and Kvhost from Dødheimsgard, whose 666 International is not a bad point of reference, though that album is slicker and more futuristic.  Void’s sole album (to this point; let’s work on that, please, chaps) is altogether colder and meaner, sounding very much like a grey autumn’s walk through London’s seediest alleyways and deserted Underground stations.

23. Worms of Sabnock, Dark Harmonies.  Another Meads Of Asphodel-affiliated project (should be enough of an endorsement there); this one plays a bit more straight-ahead, highly tremelo-ed second wave(-ish) black metal, but sits quite nicely alongside some of the earlier Ludicra records, especially in the percussion department.  Quite tasty stuff.

24. Xasthur, Telepathic with the Deceased.  Right, not particularly ‘underground’ here (which, when you think about it, is really odd, given how antisocial and offputting Malefic’s music should be to most people), but I didn’t really feel like dragging Xibalba into things.  This album gets some bad press, I think, but it remains one of my favorites of the (now defunct) Xasthur project of one-man fuzz-drenched melodic black metal carpet-bombing.  The interlocking guitar and keyboard melodies have rarely sounded so twisted and sickly as on this one.

25. Yakuza, Of Seismic Consequence.  Truth be told, I’m still undecided about this record.  Plus, I know everyone and his grandmother is recommending this.  Anyway, I’m a little light on “Y”s, so it was either this or the released-without-a-splash album by YcosaHateRon, a dark ambient/industrial/noise project featuring, oh, who can I remember, Killjoy from Necrophagia, Attila from Mayhem, and some dude from Aborym.  Problem is, I recently decided that I hate that record, so despite the fact that I can hardly tolerate the vocals on the new Yakuza album, I’ll throw it up there.

26. Zozobra, Bird of Prey.  This album is heavier than you.  It is also criminally overlooked sludge/hardcore/doom with that classic Hydra Head touch.

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I haven’t yet figured out if there’s a good way to avoid this, but I’m quite certain that I’m far from the only one out there who follows a whole mess of music rather closely, and begins to feel more than a little overwhelmed.  Of course I can’t really speak for the faceless masses of internet blips and pixels, but I imagine that many of you have your own little accounting systems, or organizational schemes for dealing with new music.

Maybe you anticipate upcoming releases by keeping little lists of noteworthy titles on the horizon; or by following a blog or a dozen that tend to report news from the genres you follow; or maybe you download hundreds of gigabytes of music from all the errant spaces of the world and then feel slowly gnawed away by guilt, not because of any qualms over copyright infringement or any such square nonsense, but because there’s just so much of it, and you’ll never ever listen to it all, and so eventually it shuttles its way between a download folder and that much-used twin, the recycle bin; or, better yet, maybe you’re not completely neurotic like I am, and you just listen to some music that you like and have already stopped reading this shiftless bourgeois tripe.  Good for you.

All of this, really, is just by way of prelude to saying that, sometimes it’s liberating to just sit down in front of the ol’ music collection (or ol’ computer, really) and listen to whatever seems to be calling out to you; no real agenda, no obligation, just, y’know, whatever feels right.  Weird, isn’t it, that as a listening culture we (or at least some of ‘we’) have found ourselves in such a predicament?  I guess, actually, it’s probably not that different from finding yourself at the grocery store, trying to pick out a box of cereal but oh, what’s that, decision-making-part-of-my-brain?, I can’t quite hear you over the sound of 17,000 brands of dried crunchy things with sugar.

The petty tyranny of choice meets an over-saturated consumer culture.

Playing the role of desktop Napoleon today, then, here is what I’ve been putting in my ear holes…ere I saw Elba:

Ghost, Snuffbox Immanence

This Japanese folk/rock/psych group can kick out some pretty hot jams, but unlike their countrymen in the Acid Mothers Temple & Melting Whatever Freak-Outs, I actually prefer it when they stick to the mellower side of the rock and roll continuum.  Which they do, on this release, with consummate ease.  Check out Hypnotic Underworld and In Stormy Nights for even better distillations of this magic, which seems more easily wrought over a longer running-time.

Keep of Kalessin, Reptilian

Finally gave this record the first listen today.  Although, to be fair, I only bought my copy last week, meaning I’ve been experiencing far less of the aforementioned gnawing guilt as with, say, the new Nightbringer which I’ve yet to play, or the new Watain, which I’ve only run through once (though, in my defense, goddamn is that thing loooong).  Anyway, something about their last one, Kolossus, never quite sat entirely right with me.  Armada was a massive beast of a record, and Kolossus‘ main fault, I think, is that it sounded more or less like Armada Redux; so, while it was a reasonably satisfying blast of ultra-classy, shined-up melodic black(-ish) metal, it didn’t have any real standout tracks like “The Black Uncharted” or “Crown of the Kings” from Armada.  First listen to this dragon-obsessed follow-up, then, is an improvement on that front, inasmuch as there is definitely a marked change from both Armada and Kolossus; yet to be determined, however, is whether this is a good or bad change.  In my only casual perusals of the metallic corners of the internet, I have seen nothing but scorn heaped upon early single (and Eurovision entry!) “The Dragontower,” and while that track’s first impression was definitely much more that of a pop song grafted onto a web of heavy metal signifiers, honestly folks, it wasn’t that bad, and it’s not as though Keep Of Kalessin have been, until now, your uncompromising bulwark of everything that is true and kvlt in metal.  In other words, ‘Norsk Arisk Black Metal’ they ain’t.

Pink Floyd, Meddle

Truth be told, I think I’ll always prefer Wish You Were Here, even though I know for many Meddle is the connoisseur’s Floyd album.  Granted, the second side of Meddle, taken up entirely by “Echoes,” completely owns early 1970s progressive rock, and the album’s first track has that great spooky, driving momentum that I could listen to all day.  “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” still edges out “Echoes” by a hair, though, for long-winded, multi-part prog odyssies, and the rest of the more straight-ahead rock songs on Wish You Were Here are a bit more memorable (hello, “Welcome to the Machine”) than those on Meddle (although the jaunty “San Tropez” is fun).

I think the reason I had it in my head to listen to Meddle today was because I had been listening to the new Nachtmystium album, which, I know, I know, is probably coming one album too late for getting in on the psych/freak-y Nachtmystium; seems like for this second volume (which is excellent, in case my snark is confusing the issue), they ought to have called it Black Unknown Pleasures or some such thing, but I digress.

Clutch, Blast Tyrant

Most anything Clutch does is worth your time, but their latter-day records are where I spend most of my time.  Sure, the self-titled album and Pure Rock Fury are pretty much all class, but Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus, Beale St, and Strange Cousins are the friggin’ shit.  This album, especially, is just a wonderful combination of seriously muscular blues, some of Neil Fallon’s most bad-ass stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and a bunch of completely fucking righteous RIFFS.

On the subject of those lyrics, see:

“Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers /
Gideon is knocking in your hotel while you slumber”

OR, in honor of Dio’s recent passing:

“Holy diver, where you at?
There’s a woman on the hill in a wide-brimmed hat /
With a shotgun, .44 /
And a big bloodhound in the back of a jacked-up Ford”

I mean, GODDAMN if that isn’t some FUNK.

Negura Bunget, Om

As long as we’re cataloging my recent music-related shames, I ought to let it out that despite receiving my copy in the mail a far while back, I still haven’t listened to the new post-breakup Negura Bunget album (the title of which, since I am too lazy to pull up the accurate spelling, is something approximating Virstele Pamintului; or anyway, that’s my closest guess).

I’ve pretty much tried to avoid following any of the acrimony surrounding the split of the core members, with some of them (maybe only one?) continuing on with the name, and others forming a new group, whose similarly Romanian name also escapes me at the moment.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like this ever reached the sublimely ridiculous heights (or lows, depending on your perspective) of the Gorgoroth Affair, so when I do get around to listening to the new one, I’m hoping to do so without much contextual baggage.

Still, whenever I do listen to it, and as I’m sure everyone else and their grandmother has noted, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill.  Om is an absolute monster of a record: expertly paced and sequenced, loud and brash when it needs to be, meditative and melodic whenever it wants to be.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but something about listening to Om seems incredibly intuitive, like it doesn’t require a long apprenticeship in the dungeons of heavy metal lore to understand this music on a visceral level.

Looking over this list, I was also struck by just how masculine-dominated most of these rock genres are.  Of course, to really do that topic justice would require several tortuous essays and much hand-wringing, so instead I just reminded myself that I was also listening to Arch Enemy’s Wages of Sin (their first record to feature current growler Angela Gossow) earlier today, and that I’ve got a recently-acquired copy of Gillian Welch’s Hell Among the Yearlings in the docket.

But ah, there’s that damnable docket again, and it’s brought its friends, Guilt and Obligation…

Still, hopefully up soon:
– Reviews of the Pyramids & Nadja collaboration and Devin Townsend’s Physicist
A rant about stoner metal, and all its spurious accusations against my listening faculties
– A brief essay on the furniture department of Macy’s

Cheers, &c.,
d

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Given that this current bout of ninety-plus degree weather has sapped me of all earthly energy, why not opt for the path of least resistance (namely, random iTunes game)?

1. Aphex Twin, “Come to Daddy (Little Lord Faulteroy Mix)” – Some creepy and understated electro from Mr. Richard D. James.  This track suffers incomparably, however, from appearing immediately before one of my favorite Aphex Twin tracks ever, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” which, apart from appearing on the Come to Daddy EP, also showed up on the soundtrack to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi alongside other mid-90s electronic greats such as Autechre, Massive Attack, Orbital, and the sometimes-maligned Banco de Gaia.  Anyway, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” makes fantastic percussive use out of what sound like ball bearings being dropped on a smooth concrete surface; those interested in weird musical coincidences might also check out Gnarls Barkley’s jaw-droppingly awesome track “Open Book” for a somewhat similar percussive production.

2. Today is the Day, “Flowers Made of Flesh.” – Well, goddamn it all if I didn’t try to get through all of Sadness Will Prevail a few times. I’ve pretty much decided that the sprawling double album was never intended to be sat through all at once – not because the band wanted each disc experienced separately as a self-contained experience, but rather that two-and-a-half hours of tripped-out ambience, disturbing samples, shrill, shrieking almost-grind, and droning cyber-death riffing were intended to beat the listener into submission and leave him or her huddled in the very same asylum corner pictured on the album cover; whether that speaks well or ill of the record, I’ll leave you be the judge.

3. At the Gates, “Neverwhere.” – At the Gates’ earlier records seem to get overlooked in favor of discussing the landmark Slaughter of the Soul, which makes sense, given that commentators are equally likely to single out that album as the greatest example of the concise brilliance of the Gothenburg style as they are to metaphorically vomit all over its reputation by arguing that without it, the reviled styles of ‘metalcore’ and ‘deathcore’ (I guess) would have been, if not completely forestalled, then at least staved up by a fair while.  I don’t much buy either position, and find it a fun, thrashy little album that never sticks with me much after it’s finished playing.  This track, from their debut album The Red in the Sky is Ours, is kind of cool, but the stuttering, intentionally awkward melodic phrases right at the start bum me out.

4. Tool, “The Pot.” – Tool fans are an odd bunch, right?  10,000 Days was a fairly divisive record, if I recall, and I’ve still never quite figured out my own feelings about it.  I think “Vicarious” worked quite effectively as a single, and the 17-minute, two-part “Wings for Marie”/”10,000 Days” suite ranks up there with the band’s best work.  On the other hand, this track does almost nothing for me, and I find the 11-minute plus running time of “Rosetta Stoned” unacceptably self-indulgent for a track which goes nowhere and features embarrassingly expletive-laden adolescent stomping exclusively.  Go figure.

5. The Stooges, “Not Right.” – Every now and then, the world forgets what rock and roll sounds like; in these dark times, all it takes is someone with a shitty set of speakers (the shittier the better, when it comes to The Stooges) and a ragged copy of Raw Power to roust the world from its shiny-overproduced-rock-music-induced somnolence. This track is from the self-titled album, for the record, but for my money, Raw Power is ALWAYS where it’s at for sheer rock fury – especially in fiery opener “Seek and Destroy” (seriously, YouTube that shit to see Iggy tearing up that track at any point over nearly FOUR decades) and the downright nasty “Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell.”

6. Mistress, “Whiskey Tastes Better…” – Possibly the dirtiest band in dear old Blighty, and brought to you by the same lovely folks behind Anaal Nathrakh and Fukpig.  This track features some fairly grimy power metal squealing (think Iced Earth, but like everyone who gives two shits about Barlow or ‘Ripper’ Owens got on the wrong side of a bar fight with Jon Schafer’s Civil War reenactment buddies and ended up chewing on a broken bottle of Jack Daniels) all over the top of a close-but-not-quite-Sunlight riff-fest of sludge-caked grind.  In other words: awesome.

7. Sufjan Stevens, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” – Oh my, my, my; that is one ironic transition.  From the filthy misanthropy of Mistress to Sufjan’s fairly straight take on this sacred Christmas song.  Not too many indie artists could get away with Sufjan’s five-volume (and still counting, I believe) mini-albums for Christmas, but the dude knows just when to rock his straight-up EARNEST voice, and when to cut loose a little (see “That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!”).  Plus, the minor key mope-fest that is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was basically MADE for this kind of sad bastard music (apologies to Nick Hornby/Jack Black/Belle & Sebastian/etc.).

8. Swans, “Saved.” – O boy.  There is way too much to be said about Swans (which I may attempt in a later post).  This track is from the controversial album The Burning World, which was Swans’ first (and only) major label album.  Michael Gira (Swans’ principal songwriter, singer, and all-around Dude Of The Righteous Voice) has disavowed the album, primarily due to the pressures he feels the band faced from the label to clean up their sound, as well as the production job done by Bill Laswell.  If you ask me, the whole thing is a bit overblown; yeah, the album is a far cry from the nihilistic drone-stomp of their early 1980s work (Cop, Greed, Filth, Holy Money, etc.), and sure, it was a disappointing come-down to have been the follow-up to probably their all-around most consistently awesome full-length, Children of God, but it’s still got some pretty decent tunes (although, it ought to be said, this is not one of the best), especially “I Remember Who You Are,” “God Damn the Sun,” and opener “The River that Runs with Love Won’t Run Dry.”  Although the instrumental textures, which were really tidied up and smoothed over, may be the biggest change from their previous work, the thing I found most tough to swallow about The Burning World is the almost country-fied, honey sweet gloss given to Gira’s vocals (as opposed to the much gruffer, roots-ier country style occasionally employed by Gira later in his excellent work as Angels of Light – now defunct, with Swans back in action as of late last year).  All of this is mostly beside the point, as this record is one tough motherfucker to find, with most used copies selling online for $30 and up.

9. Drudkh, “Where Horizons End.” – This Ukrainian band is definitely on my list of “Metal Bands Whose Names I Will Try To Avoid Speaking In Public Because I’ve Got No Fucking Clue How To Pronounce Them” (also making the list: Amon Amarth [which looks deceptively easy, but how they hell are those vowels pronounced?], Kiuas, Mörk Gryning, and hundreds of others).  Disregarding the linguistic difficulties, these reclusive metallers have made some of the most mesmerizing and grimly melodic black metal of the past decade or so.  This track, from Estrangement, shares all of those wonderful songwriting characteristics, but, like the rest of the record, suffers, in my view, from an excessively treble-y production, both in the clean-ish lead guitar and the way-too-fuzzed-out distorted rhythm guitar.*  The bass sounds pretty great, but simply can’t match the extremely classy and even more up-front bass in their most recent (and much superior) album Microcosmos.

10. Black Breath, “Virus.” – Well, hell yes.  Black Breath’s debut full-length, out just earlier this year on Southern Lord, is a super-potent kick in the goddamned teeth.  Heavy Breathing features an excellent, compact Swedish death metal-style guitar tone, but mixes it up into a fierce cocktail of Disfear-esque metallic d-beat and seriously pissed-off half-time doom breakdowns.  Check out the completely wicked instrumental “Heavy Breathing” and the way it seamlessly breaks into the following track, “Children of the Horn.”  Crushing and dangerous stuff, and much too well-crafted for being their debut album (well-received three-track EP of last year notwithstanding); make sure your china is well-secured in its hutch, because these dudes have the potential to smash your pitiful little world down to shards and pixels if they get any better.

That’s all for now, friends; I’m off to break things.

*Apologies to your friend and mine, the comma, who is sure to be sorely overused whenever I get my grubby little hands on it.

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***Another repost.  I haven’t thought too much about this topic since I originally penned this list, but I’m going to try to give it some more thought now, and will likely add some other albums.***

Many music snobs* will tell you that the best way to listen to your favorite music (although YOUR favorite music probably sucks, goes the Music Snob Party Line) is with a really good pair of headphones.  Or, better yet, on vinyl AND with headphones.  For myself, however, it’s not always that important; that is, if I’m listening to something along the lines of The Ramones, Cannibal Corpse, or Bruce Springsteen, I don’t find that using headphones adds all that much to my listening experience.

However, I will argue that there are some albums that can definitely be experienced more fully through headphones. I haven’t quite figured out why that is with some records, although certainly the more complex and layered an album is, the more it might warrant headphoned (?) investigation. Regardless of the reasons, I’ve assembled here a list of some of the albums I find myself listening to almost exclusively with good stereo headphones. I also welcome any suggestions any of you fine people out there might have for albums to spin with the good ol’ headphones.

– Fantômas, Delirium Cordia – This album is creepy enough on its own, but if you listen to it carefully enough, I swear it actually feels like you’re under anesthesia, surfacing periodically from bizarre narcotic dreams to the sounds of your own body being operated on. Terrifying genius.

– The Axis of Perdition, Deleted Scenes From The Transition Hospital – This is another truly demented album, perfectly narrating – at least aurally, as most of the lyrics are undecipherable – the psychological torment of someone waking up in an abandoned industrial hospital. The industrial black metal is fuzzy and furious, the vocals are maniacal, and the ambience is mesmerizing.  Last year’s follow-up, Urfe, is similarly demented, but I haven’t taken to it nearly as much, although it demands headphones just as much as (if not more than) Deleted Scenes, particularly on the first disc, which is entirely metal-free and instead consists of rich, deep film noir-style soundtrack elements serving as the backdrop for the narration of a 28 Days Later-esque horror screenplay.  Kind of.  Whatever; it’s fucked up.

– Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven – This entire album is Godspeed’s best work – except, perhaps, for “The Dead Flag Blues,” off the debut record – and its complexity perfectly lends itself to headphone listening. Pay particular attention to the layering of guitar tracks during the loud sections of this album: I’m pretty sure one of them is a guitar being played with a screwdriver.

– Set Fire to Flames, Sings Reign Rebuilder – Another entry from the incestuous Montreal post-rock scene, this album demands headphones to listen not just to its details, but also to the spaciousness contained within and between the music. Recorded in an old condemned house, this album accurately reflects that sparseness.

– Broken Social Scene, Broken Social SceneYou Forgot It In People is a marvelous album as well, but the sheer density of this album’s layered recording demands headphones to sort through everything that’s going on.

– Autechre, Tri Repetae ++ – I love pretty much all of Autechre’s work, but this album strikes the perfect balance between the more gentle, ambient IDM of Incunabula and Amber and the colder, glitchier recordings of their later career. As such, this album is great for the sheer textures it creates and then inhabits. And please, please, please, don’t neglect the ++ part of this double disc rerelease, as it contains some of Autechre’s absolute best, particularly the stunning closer, “Vletrmix21.”

– John Coltrane, Ascension – This record may just be one of the most intense musical experiences ever put to tape. Absolutely chaotic, but retaining a certain sense of groove and complex melody/counter-melody, listen to it with headphones for total sensory assault.

– Converge, Jane Doe – This album works great without headphones as well, but I find that I’m better able to appreciate the striking sense of melodicism that underlies the shrieking, emotional hardcore when I use headphones. The same is true of You Fail Me, but to a very slightly lesser extent.  For reasons I’ve yet to quite figure out, No Heroes and, especially, last year’s killer Axe to Fall both seem to work better kicked out through speakers in the “real” world.

–  Blut Aus Nord, Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity – Even more so than The Work Which Transforms God, this EP is fantastic to listen to with headphones. A perfect exercise in alternating density and spaciousness.  I think, for all our sakes, it’s a good thing that this EP never wound up on a split release with The Axis of Perdition’s Physical Illucinations… EP, as was originally intended, given that the combination of the two bands’ coruscating bleakness and dark brilliance likely would have produced such a volume of awesome that our world would have collapsed in on itself, leaving behind the very black hole from which both recordings seem to have issued in the first place.  In other words: I like it.

– Xasthur, Telepathic With The Deceased – Despite having read plenty of negative reviews of this album, for my money, this one is probably Malefic’s best (although Nocturnal Poisoning definitely gives it some stiff competition) , and it’s even bleaker with headphones. Especially striking is his excellent use of melodic guitar counterpoint.

– Max Richter, The Blue Notebooks – This gorgeous album drips with melancholy, and begs you to give it your full attention.  Though I haven’t put it to the test, I suspect Johann Johannsson’s IBM 1401: A User’s Manual album would be equally rewarding, and equally melancholy, with headphones.

– The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble – I still can’t seem to get enough of its magnificent texture and atmosphere. Sounds great with or without headphones, but it’s a bit easier to keep track of all the nuance with the headphones.

– Matmos, The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast – An album this bizarre, complex, and awesome needs to be listened to with headphones, friends, and probably libations.

– Massive Attack, Mezzanine – Great without headphones for your dinner parties, sure, but listen to it with them on, and you’ll experience its unique claustrophobia and urban paranoia to the maxxx!

– Arvo Pärt, Tabula Rasa – The music may be minimalistic, but you’ve got to give it your full attention in order to appreciate how it can be so simple and yet complex simultaneously.

– Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection Symphony) – Apart from the fact that I find classical music in general much easier to listen to with headphones, you absolutely MUST listen to the concluding sections of the Vth movement with headphones in order to get the full power of the chorus, plus the pure weight of the organ riding beneath the final moments.

Leave comments, disagreements, further recommendations, threats and imprecations below to your internet heart’s content.

*Of which I am certainly one, it’s just that I tend to focus my snobbishness in other ways.

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I’m not going to pretend that this is a fully thought-out list.  These ten albums are not even ranked in any sort of order.  Think of this, maybe, as a bit of a status update for 2010.  It’s been a pretty good year for metal so far, and we’re not even halfway through.  I have made no effort to select albums which are particularly obscure or underground, this is just a selection of some of the new metal albums that have been welcomed warmly into my home (and ears) this year.  Chances are, I’ll get around to posting reviews of some of these at some point.

– Darkthrone, Circle the Wagons

Ludicra, The Tenant

Twilight, Monument to Time End

Abigor, Time is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint

The Howling Wind, Into the Cryosphere

Nechochwen, Azimuths to the Otherworld

Immolation, Majesty and Decay

Orphaned Land, The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR

Howl, Full of Hell

1349, Demonoir

I’m still undecided on the new albums by The Ocean, Sigh, Xasthur, and Red Sparowes.  Biggest disappointment so far is probably the new album by Blacklisted, but I suspect this isn’t because it’s a disappointing album for them, and rather that I just don’t like their style at all (well, to be fair, it was primarily the monotone hardcore vocals that turned me waaaay off).  Plenty of other great records are out already, with many more to come.  I’m particularly excited about the new Anathema, Watain, Nevermore, and Pig Destroyer albums, as well as the sophomore album from A Forest Of Stars.  I also just found out that Deepsend Records is rereleasing Gorguts’ 2001 album From Wisdom to Hate pretty soon, which is fantastic news for anyone who loves Gorguts’ other records but didn’t quite want to pony up $20-30 on eBay for a used copy (let’s not even get started on what some people are charging for the also out-of-print milestone Obscura – I had the good fortune to randomly stumble across a brand new copy of it somewhere recently [I think it was either on eBay or Half.com] which had been labeled ‘Used’ and was being sold for around $20).

Oh, shit, let’s not forget FUCKING IRON MAIDEN.  Up the irons!

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***This is a repost of an entry I posted several years ago on my last.fm page.  It has been edited slightly, not to change any of the albums I selected for each season, but to excise some of my more nonsensical commentary.***

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which music can convey certain moods or vague feelings that are almost entirely separate from particular emotional or subject matter content. Now, obviously the feeling received will totally depend on the subjectivity of each individual listener, such that it’s entirely possible (and perhaps desirable) for one artist, one album, one song (one lyric, one note, &c…) to mean something very different to each person who listens.  Nevertheless, I’m pretty intrigued by we might call musical hermeneutics, especially as it pertains to the seasons. Therefore, I thought I might list a few albums that, at least to me, capture some aspect of the various seasons.  I hope, especially, that I can steer clear of the trap that many black metal fans seem to fall into, namely, associating anything trebley and tremelo-y with winter, frost, etc.  I will provisionally call this the “Abbath Fallacy.”

Feel free to offer your own lists, or perhaps suggestions of albums/artists you feel I might be interested in, based on the type of feeling I get from those albums listed below. This is largely an attempt to think about what music means, and how it comes to mean that, which, for me lately, has been much more about texture/timbre than lyrical or visual imagery.

Winter Albums:

– Explosions in the Sky, The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place – The guitar tone on this album seems somewhat wintry to me, especially on the first track, “First Breath After Coma.” When this album reaches its crescendos, it makes me think of early morning sunlight on vast Antarctic plains.
– Tenhi, Maaäet – It’s impossible for me to listen to this album and not hear dark, early winter nights.
– Set Fire to Flames, Telegraphs In Negative/Mouths Trapped In Static – I am thinking especially of the emotionally devastating final two tracks of disc two, “Mouths Trapped In Static” and “This Thing Between Us Is A Rickety Bridge Of Impossible Crossing/Bonfires For Nobody…”
– Red Sparowes, At The Soundless Dawn – Parts of this album are almost too noisy to make me think of winter, but there are flashes throughout this album that make me think about a large city under a heavy snow, that struggle between the insistence of nature and the petulance of our daily routines.
– Vinterriket, Der Letzte Winter – Der Ewigkeit Entgege – The howling, ambient, fuzzed-out, keyboard-drenched black metal of this fantastically-structured album absolutely screams ‘blizzard’ more so than ten thousand Pure Holocausts or Battles in the Norths every could. P.S. Don’t get me wrong, I love Immortal.

Honorable mentions:
– Tenebrae In Perpetuum, Antico Misticismo
– Autechre, Incunabula
– Agalloch, The Mantle

Spring Albums (though, to be fair, I’m mostly thinking about gray, rainy spring, and not flowers-in-bloom spring):

– Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue – Particularly the delightfully lugubrious “Blue In Green,” which makes me see a smoky, almost empty jazz club, and it’s raining out in the streets of the city.
– Beck, Sea Change – Listen to the strings on “Lonesome Tears” and tell me they wouldn’t blend in perfectly with a cascading rain.  Or don’t, whatever.
– Boards of Canada, Music Has The Right To Children – The analog-ish texture of this album is both perfectly clear and deliciously murky, perfect for a cold spring rain.
– Tom Waits, Alice – Throughout this album, Waits is at his absolute best. And holy crap, listen to the title track, the rattle on the snare and the soft attack of the saxophone; this is the song so quiet that the drummer’s brushes have tiny brushes attached to the ends of them.
– Primordial, The Gathering Wilderness – The first lyrics on this album are: “One day, I stood with my back to the wind, and a rain fell down…” and goddamn if the music doesn’t sound exactly like that.

Honorable mentions:
– My Dying Bride, The Dreadful Hours OR Turn Loose the Swans
– Portishead, Dummy
– Billie Holiday, Lady In Satin
– Nargaroth, Geliebte Des Regens

Summer Albums:

– Ulver, Nattens Madrigal – This is a perfect example of the trebly, tremelo-y fallacy; this album is about as raw and trebly as they come, yet it doesn’t remind me of winter in the slightest. In fact, the rawness has an organic feel, which, coupled with such stunning touches as the brief acoustic interlude in “Wolf and Fear” and the brilliantly triumphant opening riff of “Wolf and Passion,” creates a certain feeling of warmth, perhaps like the earthen floor of the forest in which this album was apocryphally recorded.
– Morgion, Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth – Although I think Solinari is a better overall album, you can’t deny that this album, unfortunately Morgion’s last, has a very warm, organic tone, a feeling which pervades in the artwork, the song titles, the guitar tone, the clean vocals, &c…
– LTJ Bukem, Journey Inwards – The funky, mellow, jazzy drum and bass of this double album seems the perfect soundtrack to early summer mornings, bright and fresh without the tyranny of excessive heat and light/overstuffed and hyperactive drum and bass.
– Sleater-Kinney, The Woods – There is such a raw immediacy to this entire album that it’s hard to put into words exactly why it feels like summer. Maybe it would be best to listen to the last two tracks, the epic “Let’s Call It Love” and the beautiful come-down closer “Night Light” to realize just how warm and direct the entire album is. Oh, and you’ll also notice that these ladies know how to ROCK. THE. FUCK. OUT.
– Striborg, Spiritual Catharsis – To put it briefly: Sin-Nanna is demented. More specifically, this ultra-raw album sounds so mysterious, so distant, and so moist that it really does feel like you’re stuck in the middle of the rainforest. Listen to the eerie interlude of “Glorification of Mother Nature” or the bizarre keyboards floating above the chaos of “Within The Depths of Darkness and Sorrow.”

Honorable mentions:
– The Arcade Fire, Funeral
– Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On

Autumn Albums:

– Drudkh, Autumn Aurora – Seems too obvious, right? Well, yes, but Drudkh’s dense, warm black metal is tinged with just the right amount of sorrow to qualify it perfectly for autumn.
– A Silver Mt. Zion, Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward – This is easily ASMZ’s best album, though they are all fantastic. The strings and piano are wonderfully mournful, and Efrim’s vocals on “The Triumph Of Our Tired Eyes” are both restrained and explosive. If this album doesn’t move you, chances are you’re a robot. A sad, dead-hearted robot.
– Henryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 – Symphony Of Sorrowful Songs – Two words: holy shit.
– Yann Tierse, Amélie Soundtrack – Accordians, piano, charming melodies, but underlying it all a rather Parisian melancholy, perfect for strolling along the Seine in October.
– Circle Takes the Square, As The Roots Undo – Bizarre and incredibly emotional post-hardcore. “In The Nervous Light Of Sunday” and “Interview at the Ruins” are perfect examples of music for the fall.

Honorable mentions:
– Enslaved, Isa
– Wolves in the Throne Room, Diadem of 12 Stars
– Deep Dish, Global Underground: Moscow

Comments, suggestions, opinions welcomed.

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