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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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Alright, friends – things are starting to get a bit heavy around here as we continue counting down the year’s best metal albums.  Spinal Tapdance presents here, for your viewing (dis)pleasure, the second of three installments ticking off the 30 best records from across the vast universe of heavy metal.  Let us know where we’ve nailed it, and where we’ve completely fucked up and made you embarrassed to have ever even considered directing your web browser to this sad, shabby piece of disagreeable trash we call a blog.
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20.  StarGazer, A Great Work Of Ages/A Work Of Great Ages

In my review of StarGazer‘s sophomore album, I called A Great Work Of Ages “a seething, lurching, yet surprisingly sprightly beast of a musical journey that assaults the unsuspecting passer-by with dauntingly technical instrumentation that nevertheless resolves into a measured, artfully-meted out accounting of chaos.”  Thing is, that mouthful of overwrought prose makes this album sound like a chore to listen to, which it most definitely (and defiantly) is not.  There’s plenty of off-kilter structure and inventive musicianship to admire and analyze throughout this progressive/technical death metal head-trip, but first and foremost, this is an album to put on, sit back, and just enjoy.  You won’t be singing any choruses or humming along to a repeated bridge, but you will be amazed at the ability of these Aussies to play the shit out of their instruments without overwhelming the listener in a blitzkrieg of claustrophobic production and impenetrable gestures.

19.  Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke

Something about Intronaut had never quite jived with me until this album, but boy does Valley Of Smoke set me right and kick me in my ass for doubting it.  These songs are fluid compositions with impressive range, and despite the increasing prominence of clean vocals and smoothed-out texture, this ain’t no soft-ball half-metal nonsense.  It’s all about finding the right groove and sucking you down into its beguiling depths, down into that great colorful panorama of the album’s cover – whether you are the skeleton, or the iguana, or the loftily-soaring eagles is your own concern.  Valley Of Smoke injects jazz-fusion into rumbly post-metal’s environs, and comes out the other side smelling of roses and roses and roses.

18.  Kvelertak, Kvelertak

Kvelertak’s self-titled debut album is the 2010 equivalent of last year’s phenomenal Darkness Come Alive by Doomriders.  Meaning, this is a gnarly collision of all sorts of ass-kicking, party-inducing music.  You can quibble all you like about whether it’s punk, hardcore, black metal, garage rock, and anything else, but the undeniable fact is that this is just music for an all-around good time.  I simply cannot fathom the ridiculous backlash against this band, because every time I throw on this album, I just want to drink some beers and jump around in a forest on a pogo stick.  I mean, come ON, doesn’t that sound fucking awesome?  Sure, the dudes have got a jokey take on Scandinavian mythology, but honestly, if you’re sitting in a library poring over your Eddas and Kalevalas and waxing poetic about Yggdrasil while frowning at the hooligans making noise in the corridor…  Well, friend, maybe it’s time to hand in your heavy metal ID card.

17.  Nechochwen, Azimuths To The Otherworld

This Nechochwen album was one of the most pleasant surprises I had all year.  Apparently they’ve got one other album besides this one which leans more toward the neo-folk side of things, but Azimuths to the Otherworld, apart from having one of the coolest album titles of the year, strikes a satisfying balance between folky acoustic bits and rich, driving black metal.  The fact that the band pays tribute to the beliefs and histories of American Indians is a refreshing aesthetic, and makes for some different types musical influence showing themselves throughout the album, much like on Tomahawk’s Anonymous album.  The out-and-out metal sections are still relatively few and far between, but the album is all about mood, and the insistent drumming and beautiful acoustic guitar work throughout sustains a very contemplative atmosphere.  Don’t miss out on this one.

16.  Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones

So intense has been the drama surrounding Celtic Frost’s demise, and rebirth, and subsequent re-burial, that one could be forgiven for worrying that the next project of these metal giants would perish under the weight of self-doubt and ridiculous expectations.  But have no fear, friends, for Eparistera Daimones is more than ample proof that Tom G. Warrior is one of heavy metal’s original, and still greatest, alchemists, transmuting sturdy, solid riffs into tortured tales of harrowing emotional journeys.  Just as was Celtic Frost’s Monotheist, Triptykon’s debut is a dark, exhausting listen, but one from which the listener emerges feeling revitalized, having survived the trial by fire of some of the bleakest, most Gothic moments the Warrior has yet thrown her way.

15.  Atlantean Kodex, The Golden Bough

Everything about this album screams ‘epic’.  Perhaps the best thing about Atlantean Kodex’s long-awaited debut album is that one can approach it from a wide range of starting points: from the epic trad metal of Manowar, from the triumphant Viking era of Bathory, from the pagan/black wizardry of Primordial, or from the true doom of Reverend Bizarre.  Take any of these avenues of approach, and you’ll find The Golden Bough waiting for you, patient, resolute, and steadfast.  These are songs in no hurry to get you anywhere other than right in the midst of their stately riffing and clear-voiced hymns to the myths from which we all spring.

14.  Unearthly Trance, V

Unearthly Trance’s fifth album (V, get it?) is another of those that took its time with me.  Far less direct than the band’s previous two (and decidedly more Frost-y) albums, V is an all-encompassing listen that honestly sounds like a planet being slowly torn apart by silent electric storms.  Sounds pretty great, right?  The dual vocal attack of longtime bandleader Ryan Lipynsky and drummer Darren Verni drags bile up from the depths of a city’s fetid sewer system, while riffs lumber in and decay just as soon as they’ve announced themselves.  A much more abstract style of nihilistic doom, which actually gels rather neatly with the occult slant of the lyrics.  Take your time with this album, or it will take its time devouring you.  Or will do so either way.  Whatever; doom on.

13.  Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits

If I had the luxury of titling this album myself, I probably would have called it “So Many Smiles.”  Because, honestly, it’s hard to imagine any fan of classic heavy metal not hearing this album and getting a giant, daffy grin plastered all over her face.  I don’t mean to say that this album is lightweight and unserious, but it knows how to be serious without taking itself seriously, if that makes any sense.  If that doesn’t make sense, well, there’s a whole fistful of songs here to make all the sense that my stupid words can’t: “The 95 Thesis,” “Kon-Tiki,” “Free Market Barbarian,” “Ask the Casket” – these are honestly some of the best, most memorable, and freshest sounding heavy metal songs I’ve come across in ages.  So, seriously, whatchu waiting for?  Get your Slough Feg on, and get your smiles on.  Sooooooo many smiles.

12.  The Meads Of Asphodel, The Murder Of Jesus The Jew

Okay, now here’s a band that probably takes itself too seriously.  Sorry, dudes, but it’s the truth.  Have you read Metatron’s 60,000-word codex?  Have I?  I think we all know the answer to both those questions, friends.  Thing is, no matter how seriously these English blokes take the lyrical subject matter of this concept album which purports to set the historical record straight, mercifully their music is every bit as chaotic and mind-exploding as ever.  Perhaps more so, if it comes down to it.  There’s a little bit of everything thrown in here, though the main strands remain a peculiarly English-smelling bit of crusty punkiness, Hawkwind psych and Floydian prog, plus symphonic black metal with a capital Sigh.  Sounds like a mess, innit?  Well, it works.  At times beautifully.  If you ain’t know the Meads, you ain’t know shit about freak-folk’s distant cousin in medieval black metal played by dudes in chainmail.

11.  Deathspell Omega, Paracletus


Speaking of dudes taking themselves too seriously…  Well, it actually doesn’t bother me with Deathspell Omega.  Completing a supposed trilogy of Lord knows what esoteric and orthodox black metal themes, all that’s ever mattered about this band, to this listener, is the music.  And on that score, I’m chuffed as all shit to report that Paracletus may even best Fas…, if not quite ascending to the madness-provoking heights of DsO’s breakthrough album, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice.    Paracletus whittles the excesses of previous albums down to a concise 40-ish minutes, over the course of which the listener is plunged into a disorienting maelstorm of churning riffage and refracted shards of black prismatic light.  The guitars are clean and razor-sharp, but what really stood out to me in this album is the great diversity of vocal styles by whoever the fuck in this band does vocals.  There’s the traditional black groan/shriek, but also some clean vocals tossed in, as well as some more gut-level bellowing.  Oof.  Great, powerful, genre-damning stuff.  Stare into their abyss, ye who dare.

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I can hear you all out there, licking your chops for the third and final installment of Spinal Tapdance’s extravagant end of 2010 recitations.  Be patient, gentlefolk, and while you’re at it, how am I doing so far?  Anything egregiously left off the list so far?  Any predictions for the top ten?  Anyone out there find their way to this site, thinking it was some snarky alternative-style tapdancing academy, and now becoming more and more enraged at the incessant talk of things like “riffs” and “metal” and “things and people being taken not enough or too seriously”?  I can hear you too, you shiny, clackety-shoed mouthbreathers.

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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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