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You’ve been waiting for it (or maybe you haven’t, you wee attention-span-less mongrels), and I am finally pleased to present – for your epic admiration or disgust – Spinal Tapdance’s picks for the top ten metal albums of this quickly dwindling year.  There’s a lot of black metal in there, you’ll notice, but not much Black Metal proper – most of it’s all mixed up and scuzzed around, which is all for the good.  Spinal Tapdance: firmly in favor of musical miscegenation.  As always, take to your furiously clattering keyboards to let us know what you think – cuss us out, give us e-high-fives, or present us with a 6,000-word exegesis of the secretly fascistic leanings of the new Cee Lo record.  Won’t bother us none.

More importantly – thanks to YOU, brave reader, for making these first tentative months of Spinal Tapdance worth the while.  2010 kicked out some massive jams, so be sure to stick around as we swing into 2011, where I’ll strive to keep you up to date on which bold new musical shenanigans you ought to skip, and which you ought to shiv your boss to get the time off work so as to hear.  A three-hole punch makes a fair bludgeon, in a pinch.
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10.  Withered, Dualitas

What a crushing whirlwind of an album this is.  In retrospect, their previous album Folie Circulaire was much more about individual songs; now, it’s not that the individual songs suffer on Dualitas, but that the entire album – at a rather tidy 43 minutes – plays like one dusk-hued symphony of resolute negativism and personal striving.  Genre tags are thrown about promiscuously in write-ups on Withered, and while there are certainly elements of black, death, doom, grind, and ambient at play throughout the album, the band has forged a unique style that never plays like pastiche.  Instead, these songs hit you right in the gut with a balled-up fist of fury, choppering you along with a sullen, desperate forward momentum that you will avoid only at grave personal risk.  Feeling down never felt so good.

9.  Castevet, Mounds Of Ash

If you were a new band putting out your debut album in metal in 2010, chances are pretty good that you were utterly and thoroughly embarrassed by Castevet (see my full review here).  For the band’s first album, Mounds Of Ash is monumentally self-confident as it tears through tense mini-epics and build and burn.  Jagged riff shards flit across the spectrum, and hoarse, hardcore-flecked roars assault the thinking part of the brain, while the movement part of the brain is sucked into the brash undertow of brilliantly complex (but never over-busy) drums.  This band oozes class from every pore, and if you missed their epic post-black hardcore assault on tradition, check yourself into a clinic to see if they can get a handle on your uncontrollable weeping.

8.  Julie Christmas, The Bad Wife


I mean no insult to any of the other musicians involved in this first solo outing from Made Out Of Babies and Battle Of Mice singer Julie Christmas, but anything instrument-related on this record ranks a hugely distant second to Ms. Christmas’s troubled, terrible, tremendous voice.  She blows through a huge range of vocal styles throughout this album, projecting intense fragility and instability, as well as righteous, face-melting rage.  “Bow,” “If You Go Away,” “When Everything Is Green”; the album is packed with fantastically expressive songs that feature Christmas on the top of her game, backed by angular noise rock riffing and more serene, almost lounge-esque accompaniment.  For the open-minded metalhead, then – or, y’know, for fucking everybody.

7.  Sargeist, Let The Devil In

What happens when a black metal band plays by absolutely every rule in the black metal playbook?  Complete snoozefest, right?  Well, maybe in the hands of a band less capable than Sargeist.  This album, though, this white-hot fiery blaze of an album, manages to transcend generic trappings simply by pushing those traditional signifiers to their absolute limit.  The blasting is the blasting-est, the ruthless tremolo riffs are razor-sharp and wrenchingly melancholy, the tortured vocal manglings of Hoath Torog are none-more-tortured-and-mangling.  In short, if you toss around phrases like ‘orthodox black metal’ and ‘avant-garde black metal’ like they mean shit when presented with an ass-walloping like this, Sargeist have got a Darkthrone song to sing to you: Fuck off and die.

6.  Rotting Christ, Aealo

Though all music is, in some sense, a reflection of the place that spawned it, few records have seemed as rooted in the earth of its creators’ home as does Rotting Christ’s latest – and best – album.  In almost every way a continuation of the seemingly effortless melodic black metal alchemy of Sanctus Diavolos and Theogonia, Aealo stakes out more deeply resonant territory with the addition of a traditional Greek women’s choir – the kind you might expect to play the role of the Furies in Aristophanes or Sophocles, or wailing to oversee the honoring and burying of the dead as Pericles recites his acclaimed funeral oration in Thucydides’s telling.  The melodies here are full and aching, spilling over and suffusing the great rhythmic drive of some of Rotting Christ’s finest songs with a real emotional weight.  And Diamanda Galás joining the band for a cover of her “Orders From The Dead”?  Forget about it – this album owns you, just as equally as it owns the tragedies and overcomings of its own storied past.

5.  Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium


Trad metal throwbacks.  NWOBHM revivalists.  A recently unearthed demo from 1983.  Lob whatever snide comment or epithet at this album you like – Christian Mistress’s debut just couldn’t give two shits, and will carry on rocking, licking, driving, and belting its way deep into your subconscious.  You will wake up singing these songs; you will go to sleep singing these songs.  The production is classically brittle, the dual guitars could be from Lizzy or Priest or Slough Feg, for fuck’s sake, and the gutsy, straightforward and raw husky vocals of (not so) secret weapon Christine Davis glue your ass to your seat.  It’s fucking rock and roll, so shut up and listen, you silly asshole.

4.  Blood Revolt, Indoctrine


When I reviewed this album some months ago, I predicted that although it’s a jaw-dropping fusion of various threads of extreme metal, it probably wouldn’t be an album I would listen to over and over again.  This has turned out to be exactly true, but for the safety and sanity of those around me, it’s probably better this way.  Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, trying to convince you, the metal-listening public, that any metal album can really sound truly and honestly dangerous anymore.  Still, Alan Averill’s vocal performance on this album is the closest thing to method acting you’re likely to find in heavy metal, so thoroughly does he inhabit the rapidly unhinging mind of a religious zealot bent on revenge and absolution.  This album gave Ross and Read (of Conqueror, Revenge, Axis Of Advance, etc., etc.) the crystal-clear, bone-dry production I’ve been literally aching to hear from them, and they in turn offered up some of their most hellacious performances – drum fills and guitar flashes sound like the report of machine gun fire, and the songs, the songs pull you in and drag you down and ask you – beg you – to watch, and to listen, and to be afraid.

3.  Ludicra, The Tenant


Crusty and melodic, urban and desperate, lovely and ugly and terrible and bright.  Ludicra’s fourth album is an absolutely superlative work of progressive leaning, sideways-riff-filled black metal.  Their songs have an uncanny ability to resonate in one’s chest cavity like a carried weight or a known secret – they play from inside you, using your ribcage as a microphone to hurl these relentless missives into the world and beyond, out to where anyone will hear, and no-one will answer.  This ain’t no cosmic bullshit, though.  This album will ground you, perhaps too jarringly for the comfort of many listeners.  You’ll find yourself swaying in time to a rhythm, a phrase, a riff, the pounding beat, and thinking, with David Byrne, “How did I get here?”  Enthralling heavy metal, simply enough.

2.  Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini

This band is pretty much unstoppable.  Continuing the progression they’ve been on since Below The Lights (the two before that began the experimental thrust, sure, but BTL seems, to me, where it started up in earnest), Axioma Ethica Odini takes the more psychedelically-minded direction of Ruun and Vertebrae and grafts it back onto the more aggressive framework of earlier works (even calling to mind, at some of the blastiest, raspiest moments, early career landmark Eld).  The one-two punch of openers “Axioma Ethica” and “Raidho” set the tone for the rest of the album, but the hits!, the hits just keep on coming.  Clocking in at a far sight longer than their other recent albums, Axioma Ethica Odini pulls the listener along on a sensory journey through infinite shades of light and dark, often finding just as much menace as hope in the pure clean vocals and keys, until finally, inevitably, dropping the listener at the base of a vast mountain in album closer “Lightening.”  That the listener is then taken, weightless, on that great melodic ascent, is a mark of the singular nature of Enslaved’s craft – that major progression doesn’t feel cheap, but rather fully and gratifyingly deserved.

1.  Agalloch, Marrow Of The Spirit


There’s the hype, then the counter-hype; the expectations, and the attempts at deflation; the sterling quality of the band’s back catalogue, and the nervous sweat of anticipation.  But I don’t really want to talk about any of that.  I don’t even really want to talk about the actual metal contained within – glorious and blasting and epic and furious and pure as the driven snow though it well may be.  I don’t want to talk about the sweeping force of interwoven melodic guitar lines, or the escape from mid-paced purgatory, or the brilliant artwork, or the fact that I’m still typing out all of these stupid ridiculous words for you to read when really all we should be doing – all any of us should be doing – is listening to the music.  I want to talk about the album’s bookends, the opening instrumental “They Escaped The Weight Of Darkness,” and the moody, crackling with blissful noise closer of “To Drown.”

Listen to that purling cello in the album’s first few minutes, to the thick scraping descending and slowly-shifting arpeggios.  Then find your way through “To Drown,” to when the screeching, wailing, probably screwdrivered guitars sing their harried cascade and loose their electric sheen on your outstretched hands.  Can you hear it, that song?  Do you find it comes from within, or does that song, that sound which is so familiar like the rushing of your heart’s deep river – does it come from some great collective pantheon of subconscious, shared experience?  This is music that dissolves ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘us’ and ‘them’ and ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and ‘nature’ and ‘artifice’.  Dwell in the space of that song, and it just will not matter from whence it came – only that it did, and it will, and you are safe.

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Well, greatest friends and silentest companions – that’s it.  The Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010, by my reckoning.  Thanks for coming along for the ride, and please do tell me your stories about the music you love, and about the music that loves you, and about all the foolish and vital spaces in between it all.  The year is dead; long live the year.
– danhammerobstkrieg / spinaltapdance

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One can hardly crack open any corner of the internet lately without being subjected to the annual rite of Wistfully Realizing That Summer Is Nearly Over.  That fact, coupled with the release this week of Iron Maiden’s latest album The Final Frontier (itself a potential wistfulness-fest in its own right), which seems to have been one of the more high-profile and highly anticipated metal releases of the year, has left me with that vague twinge.

You know, that “Ah, shit, 2010, it was nice to know you, but I guess you’re off to stay at that farm upstate where you’ll have all the room to run and play that we couldn’t offer you here at home” sort of twinge.

So, as a bit of a patch on this collective maudlin tendency, I thought I’d tally up some of the albums which are still slated to be released in this humble Year Of Our Narcissism 2010 for which I’m most excited.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive (or even particularly informative) list; this is just the stuff that I’m keeping tabs on, all sweaty palmed and fidgeting in my seat.
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– Blind Guardian, At The Edge Of Time.  The full-page ad I keep seeing in the magazines has a quote describing this as something like “ethnic and pure.”  Sounds a bit dodgy, but I’m just hoping “ethnic” is a poorly-chosen synonym for “folk-ish.”  A Twist In The Myth was a little dull for my tastes, so here’s hoping they spice things up.

– Venetian Snares, My So-Called Life.  Not metal, sure, but Aaron Funk has consistently put out some of the most intense electronic music of the past decade or so.  Plus, Detrimentalist was the fucking shit.

– Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium.  Classic NWOBHM tunes fronted by a Björk-esque singer?  Hell yeah.  Bring it on, 20 Buck Spin.

– Infernaeon, Genesis To Nemesis. Their debut from a few years back was more than a little shaky, but I’m hopeful for this one.  Sure, this is unlikely to be the second coming of Nocturnus’ The Key, but hell, there’s a lot more room in death metal for keyboard experimentation than in black metal.

– Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty.  Cephalic Carnage have always seemed like the quintessential Relapse band to me.  I know they didn’t pioneer the stuff, but their widdly death/grind/tech/whatever whirlwind tends to satisfy like lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

– Black Anvil, Triumvirate.  Pretty psyched for this, and you should be, too, if you’re looking for an updated take on Darkthrone’s mid-period crust-covered Celtic Frost-isms.

– Unearthly Trance, V.  The upward trajectory of this band has been astonishing over their past four albums.  Electrocution was a pitch-perfect distillation of what it seems like they’d been working toward all-along, so who knows where they’re going next?

– Melechesh, The Epigenesis.  Melechesh have lately been everything Absu quit being a while back.

– Drudkh, Handful Of Stars.  Drudkh’s form has changed deceptively little over the years, leading some to interpret that as stagnation.  Listen carefully to the last few records, though, and you’ll hear the results of slight tinkering to an entirely unique sound.  The prominence of bass on Microcosmos alone should have signaled that no matter how hateful the forests these Ukrainians haunt, they’re deadly serious.

– Salome, [Title Still Unknown].  Profound Lore has been dropping some tasty hint-morsels lately about this album.  Vocalist Kat added the third prong to Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s triple vocal attack on lats year’s Agorapocalypse, but hearing her vocals attached to scathingly crippled sludge is another thing altogether.

– Torche, Songs For Singles.  Rumor is, the record’s too short, and maybe also too awesome.  Blown off as pop metal by plenty of those who don’t realize that Torche combine some of the best attributes of pop and metal, meaning maybe the epithet’s actually a back-handed compliment.

– Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini.  The title seems like a Latinized version of “The Ethical Axioms of Odin.”  Presumably that gives just as little clue to the musical contents as the Latin version, though.  This is one of my most feverishly anticipated records, though; Enslaved have been completely unstoppable to this point.

– Krieg, The Isolationist.  Okay, so I really dug The Black House, but thought Blue Miasma was uninspired and dull.  Adding Leviathan’s Wrest to the band (on bass) is more than sufficient to pique my interest, though.

– Cradle Of Filth, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa.  Wow.  This may actually be a worse album title than the new Enslaved.  Plus, it’s Cradle Of Filth, so any credibility I may have had is likely a shredded mass of bloody pulp by now.  But you know?  I still kind of dig Cradle Of Filth, and Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder was light years better than most of their recent tripe.  So, y’know: Fuck off.

– Therion, Sitra Ahra.  Here’s to hoping that bringing things back to a single-disc release can bring slightly more focus than recent efforts.  Sure, Sirius B / Lemuria worked well in tandem, but given how good just the right amount of Therion is, too much Therion is a headache-inducing proposition.

– October Tide, A Thin Shell.  More gloominess, please.

– Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings.  Pyramids side-project with tons of unexpected participants and collaborators from throughout the metal world?  Excellent.

– Kylesa, Spiral ShadowStatic Tensions was one of my favorites from last year, so I’m pretty psyched that they’ve already got a new album coming out late October.

– Vulture Industries, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register.  Slightly off-the-wall black metal from a who’s-who of mainstream underground (it’s a fine, confusing line) Norwegian black metal.  Not for the ‘true’, likely, but true for the rest.

– Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert.  I did a little plug for this upcoming album a little while back.  I’m hoping the band can get enough pre-order support from all you good folks out there in Awesome Metal Appreciation Land to make this a 2010 release.  Fingers crossed, then…

– Aborym, Psychogrotesque.  Completely fucking no joke, a few days ago I was posting on Twitter about how I was hoping to see some new music from Aborym someday soon.  Lo and behold, maybe the very next day or so comes through the news item that they’ve got a new album coming out this year.  Shit!  Generator trimmed back on some of the detrimental excess of With No Human Intervention and cranked out some seriously deranged black/industrial anthems.  That title’s a bit shit, but still my soul hungers for the bleakness.

These last few are already out in Europe, to be fair, but I’d really love to see them picked up by a U.S. distributor rather than paying import prices:

– Ondskapt, Arisen From The Ashes.  Last one was a beast.  Make this one beast-ier?

– Kvelertak, Kvelertak.  Everything I’ve read about this band has made me want to drink some beers and crank the record.  And yet, if I am forced to pay import prices for it, I will have no money with which to drink some beers.  An existential conundrum if ever there was one.

– Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere.  Their debut full-length The Ghost of Heritage was quite impressive, but had a few too-ragged edges.  Here’s to hoping they’ve smoothed out in all the right places.  Still, these guys and Wodensthrone are making an awfully compelling case for an English black metal renaissance.
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So, as you can see, friends, it looks like there’s still plenty to be looking forward to this year.  And that’s just counting the ones that I’m actively looking forward to; who knows how much metallic gold remains to be mined with everything I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked?  Embarrass me with the breadth and exquisite sheen of your “Most Looked Forward To’s”

Oh, and I know I can’t include them here, but Devin Townsend has been hinting that the last two albums of the…quadrilogy (?) will both be released in March.  So, sorry, Ghost and Deconstruction, but I can’t put you on 2010’s list, even though I am milliseconds away from pissing myself with glee as I type.

Plus, I keep hearing random whispers about expecting a new Pig Destroyer one of these days, but nothing definite yet.  I mean, I keep prowling all over the damn yard, looking for something new with which to terrify my phantom limb.

My bones quake with the sickness.

The world is a frightful place, and hope the only salve.  Heavy metal for the common good.

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