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Posts Tagged ‘Pyramids’

So, although Spinal Tapdance’s Top 30 Metal Albums of 2010 will post in three installments over the next few weeks (in addition to the Top 20 also appearing at MetalReview), this was such an excellent year for heavy metal that I just couldn’t bear calling it quits at 30.  So, perhaps to whet your appetite for the Real, Official Top 30, I present Spinal Tapdance’s 25-album strong Honorable Mentions list.  This list is only somewhat loosely organized, and in lieu of the traditional straight description of why the album smokes one’s face off, I will instead be penning a haiku for each contender.

The astonishing caliber of heavy metal represented on this list should be some indication of the strength of this year’s output, so read on, and take heart – there’s more yet to come!
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1.  Alcest, Écailles de Lune


Shoegaze and jangly
black metal is so soothing;
why am I crying?

2.  Horseback, The Invisible Mountain

Slow songs, long songs; songs
ride one groove forever, but
are fucking awesome.

3.  God Dethroned, Under the Sign of the Iron Cross

Faster than last one,
less epic but still rad, Re:
War to end all Wars.

4.  Early Graves, Goner

Fast, short, furious
grinding madness breaks your face –
Hail, fallen comrade.

5.  Ehnahre, Taming the Cannibals

Alien noise and
modem vocals make this one
venomous and odd.

6.  Black Anvil, Triumvirate

No nonsense metal
that gives no shit ’bout genres;
bang your goddamn head.

7.  The Howling Wind, Into the Cryosphere

Ex-Thralldom guru
makes a grim ascent to the
ceiling of the world.

8.  Weapon, From the Devil’s Tomb

So many riffs, so
little time to catch my breath
from so many riffs.

9.  The Secret, Solve et Coagula

Grind and black and doom
and ambient noise from the
most boot-like nation.

10.  Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere

Epic black metal
by nationalists, but hey!,
they are from England.

11.  Salome, Terminal

“Let’s play some slow riffs,
then put a tiny demon
on the mic – shit yeah!”

12.  Kylesa, Spiral Shadow


“Hey, ‘member the 90s?”
“Fuck you, this is still metal.”
“‘kay, let’s jam some more!”

13.  Electric Wizard, Black Masses

Like that time you got
stoned and joined a cult but then
fucked and played some doom.

14.  Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal

Funeral doom is
more like ambient when it’s
this fuzzed, nature-y.

15.  Vasaeleth, Crypt Born & Tethered to Ruin

You like death metal,
right? So, go live in a swamp
and kick ass at it.

16.  Aborym, Psychogrotesque

Classy shit, even
though the cover art is the
worst thing ever, yo.

17.  Sailors with Wax Wings, Sailors with Wax Wings

Pyramids dude, how
did you get these sweet people
to jam with your band?

18.  In Lingua Mortua, Salon des Refuses

Jittery and black
and smooth (with sax); better than
Vulture Industries.

19.  Cough, Ritual Abuse

A better ‘lectric
Wizard album than ‘lectric
Wizard did for years.

20.  Twilight, Monument to Time End

Call this the Atlas
Leviathan, if you want –
texture, ‘pocalypse.

21.  Coffinworm, When All Become None

Such a mean-sounding
band, but in all the right ways
(not a vagina).

22.  Anathema, We’re Here Because We’re Here


Twinkly emo songs,
or the truest sad music
your dumb ears can take?

23.  Father Befouled, Morbid Destitution of Covenant

Incantation, plus
Immolation, plus choirs and
other shit is boss.

24.  Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty

Make death/grind, add your
own sound effects, then try to
keep count: you will fail.

25.  Void of Silence, Grave of Civilization


Dude from Axis Of
Perdition sings like Roman
God; plus, epic doom.

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Stay tuned for more end-of-year coverage from your pal here at Spinal Tapdance.  Cheers!

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In praise of some of this year’s releases that have featured prominently around Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, and in avoidance of some of the actual work I ought to be doing, I present a quick rundown of, as the title says, some of the new(ish) shit I’ve been spinning.

Beware the mad monk

Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits – Officially out today [ed.: Tuesday], I believe (along with enough other new metal releases to choke a horse, or at least force it into an equestrian approximation of headbanging), this is a nonstop grin-fest of everything wonderful and energetic about classic heavy metal.  Mike Scalzi’s vocals are as potent as ever, and the songs are both carefully honed and gloriously meandering.  Put it in yr ears and smile, smile, smile.

Color-by-numbers skeleton

Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke – For whatever reason, I’ve missed all the previous releases from this band.  This new album, though, really shook me by the shoulders and slapped me around a bit.  Excellent songwriting, beautiful textures, great clear bass lines and tasteful jazz-inflected drumming have kept this spinning over and over around here.  The instrumental title track may be the best thing here, though that’s not to downplay the judicious use of both harsh and clean harmonized vocals throughout.  Definitely recommended.

Climb it

Horseback, The Invisible Mountain – Tough to describe, but equally tough to ignore once it has sunk its claws in your flesh, this hypnotic album is something like an Americana act discovering krautrock and throwing in the menacing undertones of black metal.  Oh, plus the entire second side is a lilting ambient piece, the trip down the other side of the mountain after the first side’s arduous ascent.  A curious piece of work, but kudos to Relapse for picking this up for wider distribution.

It's good to remember how much you missed them

Autopsy, The Tomb Within – Brilliantly atavistic, mud-sodden death metal for murdering zombies.  It’s only five tunes, but all the death and doom you could hope for is alive and (un)well.  Welcome back, you perverts.

Brilliant artwork

Cough, Ritual Abuse – I haven’t got my grubby hands on the new Electric Wizard yet, but this new Stateside entry in the grand tradition of nihilistic sludge metal goes down just fine, all ragged edges and shaking hands.  Also playing of late has been Cough’s tremendous split with The Wounded Kings (reviewed at this very site by yours truly last week), out in November.  I’m pretty sure both sides of the split are streaming somewhere out there in computer-land, so get yourself to Google and soak in the doom.

Like 'Walden', but heavy metal

Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal – One of the most atmospheric albums I’ve heard this year.  Exceedingly nature-touched, overdriven-to-the-point-of-ambient ‘funeral doom’, though that genre description is hopelessly inadequate to describe the equally soothing and crushing sounds at work within.  Reminds one of neo-folk, without actually forcing one to listen to neo-folk.

It's a dead polar bear. Weep for this world.

Antony & The Johnsons, Swanlights – Antony Hegarty simply will not rest until he has made each and every one of us weep bittersweet tears.  This is fragile, strong, desperate, haunting music.  His duet with Björk is especially stunning, but the variety of songwriting styles on display throughout the album is most impressive.

Move your body

Gilles Peterson, Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: Remixed – Last year’s original issue of the Havana Cultura recordings were already excellent enough, but here Gilles has enlisted the help of some top-notch remixers and reinterpreters to put a more club-friendly (without the horrific connotations that phrase can entail) spin on this broad pool of Cuban musics past and present.  Funky, soulful, and always a lot of fun.  It can’t all be heavy metal all the time, friends.  Gilles is there for you in your time of need.

Exhaustive, though not exhausting

Bob Dylan, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 – A massive two-disc set of early demos of future Dylan classics, plus something like fifteen previously unheard songs.  This is a treasure chest to be explored, and in which to lose yourself.  The man is clearly not a ‘record once and move on’ kind of studio musician, as the strikingly alternate versions of some of these tunes illustrates.  Perhaps the most jarring alternate on here is the demo version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which is slowed way down, and led by piano only.

Hallucinatory shoegaze metal

Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings – Debut album from this side project of R. Loren from Texan weirdos Pyramids.  Features a shit-ton of guest vocalists and musicians, but succeeds largely because it doesn’t seem bogged down by that fact.  The album still presents itself as a coherent aesthetic whole, featuring a gorgeous variety of textures and moods.  Best heard as a piece, straight through, with mind set a-wandering.

Mind-bogglingly fantastic, dastardly metal art

Akercocke, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone – Okay, so this is clearly not a new album.  In fact, it’s from way back in the Stone Ages of 2005.  But SONOFABITCH this album is so good.  You should play it all the time.  Each and every day.  Also, if the gentlemen of Akercocke would see fit to give us another album one of these days, why, that would be just swell.

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Random bit of old news that I’m still bumming hard about:

Soooooo good

Beatrik went and broke themselves up a while back.  Dude also broke up his more straight-ahead black metal act Tenebrae In Perpetuum, which is also too bad, but man, Beatrik was where it was at.  If you haven’t listened to Beatrik’s second album Requiem Of December yet, well my goodness, you just really ought to do so.  All the best bits of depressive black metal, proper black/doom (like Nortt, see), and the great organ textures of Skepticism, topped off with fabulously excruciating vocals…  A really tasty treat, is what I’m trying to say to you.

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So, what’s been keeping you lot auditorially-occupied of late?  Don’t be shy.

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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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Pyramids with Nadja, Pyramids with Nadja (2009)

Peace like a river

Released fairly late last-year on the frequently-excellent Hydra Head Records, this album is a collaborative effort that I never would have predicted, but which makes a good deal of sense now that it’s happened.  Most of the reviews that I’ve read of this album have come to the material with a lot of background in Nadja, but basically none in Pyramids; my experience is essentially the opposite.

To put it bluntly, I’ve always found Nadja to be rather alienating.  I feel like I really started to hear a lot about them around the time Body Cage came out, and I remember enjoying that album a fair amount, but the sheer volume of material this experimental drone/shoegaze duo have released since then is astounding.  Seems like a churlish thing to complain about, but they’re one of those bands that I can’t help but think is in desperate need of an editor.  You know the ones I’m talking about: Hellveto, Xasthur, Striborg, I’m looking at you.  I really enjoy all of those bands, in fact, but the overwhelming quantity of their music makes the task of differentiating them based on their quality a challenge that I typically don’t care enough to confront.

Pyramids, on the other hand, are a young band, with just their 2008 self-titled album released thus far.  That album, which included a second disc of remixed tracks from the impressive likes of Blut Aus Nord (a key touchstone, as I’ll explain in a bit), Justin Broadrick, and James Plotkin, among others, was absolutely astounding.  The most astonishing thing about their ghostly, unsettling, and otherwordly sound was just how fully formed it seemed, particularly for a debut album.

Incorporating bits of post-rock, ambient, electronic musics, and black metal into their swirling vision, the best way I’ve come up with for describing the sound of Pyramids is as basically the polar opposite of Blut Aus Nord’s excellent MoRT album.  That is, where MoRT took the accumulated traditions of black metal and shoved them through a pitch-black prism, Pyramids’ debut album takes those same traditions, grafts onto it a heap of other inspirations, and refracts the whole mess through a prism of shimmering light.

This collaboration with Nadja, then, stretches out their given format (most of the songs on the debut album only hit around the three-minute mark or so), and encases their weirdnesses in swaths of ambience, warm, shoegaze-y drones, and slowly shifting, highly textured feedback patterns.  The track “Another War,” in fact, was more reminiscent of post-rock scions A Silver Mt. Zion than anything in the world of metal; specifically, the echoing vocals and distant, treated piano recall A Silver Mt. Zion’s Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP, with that quintessential Pyramids drum treatment running in the background.  The album, as a whole, continuously flirts with all varieties of the ambient/post-rock/found sound scene, at times even dipping into glorious washes of noise more akin to Tim Hecker’s recent work (particularly Harmony in Ultraviolet).

“Sound of Ice and Grass” gets pretty metal, as these things go, bringing in some Sunn O)))-esque droning riffs about midway through, but these molten lava riffs are overlaid with jangly drone-leads on top, sounding very much inspired by (but not quite like) Blut Aus Nord.  As far as collaborative records go, this one is quite impressive for combining aspects of both bands into a whole which comes across as generally new, rather than sounding like “Oh, this track is a Nadja-penned track, and that one over there’s the Pyramids’ shtick,” etc (*cough* Kingdom of Sorrow *cough*).

Most impressive, to my ears, about what (I imagine) Pyramids brought to the show is a sense of some of heavy metal’s classic signifiers turned around and deconstructed.  For example, where there are drums on this record (even when they are programmed drums blast-beating away), they rarely function as drums, by which I mean providing a rhythmic backbone for whatever else is going on.  Instead, the drums, as was the case on Pyramids’ debut, are presented as simply another textural element in the overall sound-collage.

The closing track, “An Angel Was Heard to Cry over the City of Rome,” is probably the standout here.  It is both uplifting and weighty, in the best Jesu tradition.  But actually, more than Jesu (which is a bit of a too-easy comparison here), this song recalls “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from Enslaved’s Below the Lights album, in the way the listener’s focus is glued to the ongoing tension between the driving pulsations of harsh noise and blastbeats, on the one hand, and a soaring, searingly melodic guitar figure on the other hand.

If it were up to me, these folks could ride out that blissful groove for hours, but the song ends at just a shade over the ten-minute mark, meaning that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and leaves the listener craving more of this very unique, highly textured collaboration.  I suppose it seems doubtful that we’ll see another full-length collaboration between these two groups, but the evidence on offer here suggests that there must have been some real lightning bursts of cooperative songwriting the first go-around.

It ought to go without saying that open-minded metalheads only need apply, but anyone with more than a passing interest in the various avant-garde strains of electronic, ambient, and post-rock musics would certainly find a lot in which to revel.  Plug in and drone out.

Overall rating: 84%.  The best part is, you can’t really tell if this is a drone-ier Pyramids, or a janglier Nadja.

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