September was another milestone month: MORE THAN AN ALBUM PER DAY! Beers all round.
It’s also been the sort of month that makes me think I might be a little soft with the review stick, as a lot of albums landed in my honourable mentions. But in all honesty, it’s just been a spectacular month.
Sólstafir is the undeniable champion though. Ótta delivers in ways that continue to surprise me. Albums like Eparistera Daimones and Celestite immediately plateau at brilliance; Ótta continues to climb into the lofty heights. There is no plateauing. It gets more brilliant with each and every listen.
If I was forced to pick any other release to highlight, it would be Season of Mist’s compilation, One and All, Together, For Home. The earnest folk melodies are beautifully performed, even when played in the most blackened manner.
But, seriously, there is so much to admire this month. Click all the links, enjoy all the music. See you next month, first Monday of the month.
*Edit: amended Videmur’s place of origin. 2014/10/12
Album of the Month
Sólstafir – Ótta
(Post-metal – Iceland)
Season of Mist – 2014/08/29
Ótta is an album that makes me want to tear up all my old reviews and start from scratch with unsullied adjectives. It also serves as the perfect reminder that metal, at its best, is a thing of abject beauty. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals are by turns heartfelt and harrowing, while the music itself is truly and uniquely majestic. Meditative and bombastic, Ótta combines the impossible. If you can’t appreciate the wonder of this album, I weep for you.
Try before you buy: Miðaftann (Bandcamp)
Außerwelt – Our Lives Out of Balance
(Post-black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/09/21
I lost myself in this album. It’s just as capable of invoking the permafrost as any other black metal band. More so, to be honest. But its true strength lies in its bending of the genre’s tropes, which turns traditional blackened melodies into extended meditations on alienation. It truly is a remarkable ep; every listen unearths something new, nuances in song structure that, while not immediately noticeable, make every song completely and truly vital.
Try before you buy: A Grey Matter (Bandcamp)
Earth – Primitive and Deadly
(Drone – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2014/09/01
Pretty sure there’s a blues album in here. Buried under mountains of fuzz and distorted into a drone album, sure, but it’s definitely blues in disguise. There’s something heartfelt, bittersweet, and earthy (pun unintended) about their guitar work. It’s captivating. The addition of vocals works. I was sceptical at first, but the finished product assuaged my fears. It can bring a tear to the eye while simultaneously destroying speakers.
Try before you buy: From the Zodiacal Light (Bandcamp)
End Silence – The Waters
(Progressive thrash – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/19
Now THAT’S a thrash album. End Silence have produced the best thrash album I’ve heard in a long time. They did this by breaking from tradition and incorporating progressive elements in a way that shows commitment to making a mature sounding album. I only hope they don’t get a cease and desist notice for the Legend of Zelda homage. It’s awesome by the way. Everything from the vocalist’s range to the intriguing solos is near perfect.
Try before you buy: Soul Charger (Bandcamp)
The Haunted – Exit Wounds
(Death thrash – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2014/08/25
Confession time: I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Haunted up to this point. I didn’t find them objectionable, but they didn’t do anything for me either. That changes with Exit Wounds. This is a seemless blend of thrash and melodic death metal, keeping the invigorating energy of the former and the naked aggression of the latter. The end result is an album that delivers on pure enjoyment in a way few albums do. It’s one of those rare ‘anytime’ albums.
Try before you buy: Cutting Teeth (YouTube)
Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind
(Progressive black metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2014/08/05
Leave aside the deep well of antipathy that Blake Judd has dug for himself and try to judge The World We Left Behind on its merits. Believe me, it’s worth it. This is not an album he could have done with Hate Meditation; this level of personalised introspection requires prog’s nuances not raw blackened aggression. Bitterness, regret, and occasional self-pity make for a surprisingly honest outcome. A fitting swansong for a troubled legacy.
Try before you buy: Tear You Down (YouTube)
Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/08/19
I enjoyed Pallbearer’s first album, but I love their second effort. This is true doom as its absolute best. Crisp guitar tones, clean vocals, elaborate melodies: all of these things come together perfectly on Foundations of Burden. The guitar work is fucking majestic. There is no other way to describe it. It draws you in and keeps you nestled in its heart. And Brett Campbell’s vocals are amazing. It helps that the guy can actually sing. Ride the beautiful gloom.
Try before you buy: The Ghost I Used to Be (Bandcamp)
Various Artists – One and All, Together, For Home
(Folk metal – Finland/France/Ireland/Netherlands/Norway/Portugal/Ukraine/United Kingdom)
Season of Mist – 2014/05/23
Various Artists tells you nothing, so here’s the contributors: Ava Inferi, Drudkh, Häive, Himinbjorg, Kampfar, Mondvolland, Primordial, and Winterfylleth. It’s an impressive list. Good thing it’s an impressive compilation. Ranging from blackened folk all the way through true folk, this is a collection of heartfelt adaptations of traditional folk songs. Serious, moving, and proof that black metal can have some pride without going full Varg.
Try before you buy: John Barleycorn (Bandcamp)
Vermin Womb – Permanence
(Blackened deathgrind – United States of America)
Throatruiner Records – 2014/09/01
The debut EP from these madmen from Denver sounds every bit as evil as you would expect from a blend of black, death and grind. It’s a testament to their skills that they pulled this together without a single wasted second. Its merciless, pitiless, remorseless blast-driven beat underscores some of the nastiest guitar work I’ve heard this year. This monstosity is further unhallowed by expertly growled vocals. Harrowing stuff.
Try before you buy: Gave (Bandcamp)
YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Neurot Recordings – 2014/08/29
Another fantastic addition to Yob’s already outstanding catalogue of American heaviness. The beauty of Clearing the Path to Ascend, and what sets it apart from the rest of their discography, are the effortless transitions from crushing heaviness to deliberately wrenching introspection. Deliberate is the best word to describe this album. There is not a single wasted note or beat; everything is vital and necessary. Doom rarely crushes this totally.
Try before you buy: Unmask the Spectre (YouTube)
The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Al’s Toy Barn – Al’s Toy Barn
(Mincecore – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/07/27
This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever heard, but that is kind of the point. I’m right aren’t I, you Tasmanian weirdos? Underneath the intentionally terrible music are genuinely enjoyable songs. Goddamn postmodern grind: it takes the genre to an illogical conclusion and along the way turns atrocious drumming, worse vocals, and simplistic guitars into songs worth listening to. I’m not sure how many repeat listens it’s worth, but everyone should hear it once.
Try before you buy: Free Parking (Bandcamp)
Amnesian – Inhospitable
(Hardgrind – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/28
Second Amnesian release for 2014 and they’ve kept the high standard up. They’ve dialled back the tempo to make an ep that has just as much in common with hardcore as it does with grind. It loses some of the explosiveness that made No Atonement the brilliant release it is, but it still simmers with hostility. And while it never feels like it will boil over, the absolute persistence of Inhospitable’s seething justifies a listen.
Try before you buy: Symmetry Hymn (Bandcamp)
Belphegor – Conjuring the Dead
(Blackened death metal – Austria)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/08/08
Austria’s favourite goat enthusiasts return with another ten tracks of what they do best: searing blackened death metal. There was never any question about what this album would be: a high tempo blast-a-rama paired with necrosadistic blasphemy. It’s what Belphegor do and they do it with consistently high quality, with smatterings of brilliance. Just don’t go looking for innovation; the concept is alien to them. I hope they never change.
Try before you buy: Conjuring the Dead (YouTube)
Chaotorynth – Eidola Hunter
(Black metal – Ireland)
Self-released – 2014/09/12
Better than generic black metal played well is the order of the day for these Irish fiends. There’s nothing here that will win any converts to black metal, but if frostbitten fury is your thing, then there is lots to like here. What really sold the album for me was the intelligent use of interludes. Chaotorynth get interludes right, giving Eidola Hunter a sense of narative flow that other blackened bands lack. Highly recommended.
Try before you buy: IV. Breathing Wall (Bandcamp)
Enbilulugugal – The End is Extremely Fucking Nigh
(Blackened noise – United States of America)
Dipsomaniac Records – 2014/09/13
I went into this expecting unlistenable screeching noise, so it was pretty cool to discover it was listenable screeching noise. It sounds like black metal from the nuclear wasteland. Static and distortion take a mid-paced sonic assault and turn it into an offputting radio signal swimming into range. It’s a promise of imminent violence, but ominousness of not knowing exactly where the threat is. It’s intimidating music written for people who eat skin.
Try before you buy: IX (Bandcamp)
Estigia – Born Guilty
(Thrash – Spain)
Self-released – 2014/09/15
Born Guilty is proof positive that a band can absolutely nail the basics and still fail to produce a fantastic album. They have a rich, heavy guitar tone pumping out catchy melodies backed up by quality drumming. And the vocals, sung cleanly, are a revelation; crooning instead of shouting suits thrash surprisingly well. But there are no solos. Not a one. Of all Metallica’s lessons, why learn from St Anger? It sucks the virtuosity out of the whole affair.
Try before you buy: The Long Finger (Bandcamp)
Fukpig – This World is Weakening
(Blackened grindcore – United Kingdom)
Devizes Studios – 2014/01/20
Not so much a new release, as it is a reinterpretation. The band weren’t happy with their previous album, 3, so they hit the studio and redid it. I was unsure at first. I, at least, liked 3. But This World is Weakening is worth the investment. It finalises Fukpig’s transition from slightly punkier Anaal Nathrakh to necrotic grind nightmare in their own right. I think they finally have made an album that lives up to their self-applied tag of necropunk.
Try before you buy: Fascist Moron (Bandcamp)
Galg – Afzicht
(Droning black metal – Netherlands)
Tartarus Records – 2014/09/20
This is a tale of two tracks. Two tracks suffused with horror barely imaginable. The first, Afzicht, sounds like the inner workings of the worst kind of sexual sadist. It opens with the furious rush of the kill, settles into an uneasy satisfaction, before the violence builds again. The second, Caverns Strewn with Bone, is akin to being forcibly trapped in said cavern. It’s rich with creeping dread and bleak hopelessness, before going out on a whimper of inevitability.
Try before you buy: Afzicht (Bandcamp)
Hegeroth – Three Emperors’ Triangle
(Melodic black metal – Poland)
Self-released – 2014/09/05
The young me would have lost his shit over this. It’s black metal in the vein of Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir: high energy and accessible. It may lack the melodrama of the former and the flamboyance of the latter, but it more than makes up for those losses by playing straight up, catchy as hell metal. It’s actually pretty refreshing to listen to Three Emperors’ Triangle after enduring some of this year’s sonic maelstroms. Highly enjoyable extremity.
Try before you buy: The Enforcer (Bandcamp)
Home is Gone – Triptych
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/18
Bit of an odd one this. It opens with a particularly alienating brand of coruscating blackened rage. It’s immediately polarising, but it’s like they second-guessed themselves, as it soon falls into a weird type of symphonic, like Anaal Nathrakh stuck in second gear. Still not particularly accessible to outsiders, but very different to how they started. And the death metal chunks feel out of place. Lots of promise, but inconsistent.
Try before you buy: Just Another Way (Bandcamp)
Human Achievement – I
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/02
I reminded me of 1980s era Sick of It All: super intense with more than hint of implied violence. But further to this is a think layer of immediacy. Human Achievement want to spend the least amount of time ensuring total destruction. Seriously efficient malice. The final thing that really made me enjoy this was the level of technical skill the band employ. Any band can slam out abbreviated noise; it takes genuine skill to play technically this fast.
Try before you buy: III (Bandcamp)
Ice Dragon – Loaf of Head
(Stoner metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/14
This is mostly enjoyable, if a little disjointed. Some of the tracks are deep in desert rock, let’s do mushrooms and finger-paint territory. Some of them are rooted in Black Sabbath, bong-ripping on a Monday morning slackerdom. They certainly get the respective sounds right. They possibly fly a little close to the suns that are their influences, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stops them from being great, but they’re still damn good fun.
Try before you buy: Walkin’ Tall (Bandcamp)
Irreversible – Surface
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/13
Surface manages to be hypnotic in the good and bad sense of the word. It draws you in and captivates you with just the right blend of heft and delicacy. It makes you believe that it’s a great album. But then, with a click of a finger (or push of the stop button), it’s gone. It’s like it was never there. I can’t think of another album that I enjoyed so thoroughly, but can’t remember a single riff from. It’s tough to draw a firm conclusion, but it’s good while it lasts.
Try before you buy: Degloving Injury (Bandcamp)
Muldjord – Color of My Soul
(Blackened death metal – Denmark)
Self-released – 2014/07/02
Expectations are funny things. I really had this pegged as a vanity project and, as such, expectations were low. But I was wrong. There are no pretensions of novelty but the guy really knows his craft. The Color of My Soul is thumping death metal with enough black metal woven through to give it a much appreciated sinister edge. Importantly for a one man band he gets all the elements right. It’s an album that any death fan should enjoy.
Try before you buy: A Thousand Paths (Bandcamp)
Reverorum Ib Malacht – De Mysteriis dom Christi
(Unblack ambient – Sweden)
The Ajna Offensive – 2014/09/18
I normally don’t bother with the running joke that is unblack metal, but the Ajna Offensive is a label I respect, so I gave this a shot. Closer to ambience than true metal, this is still every bit as unsettling as the best of black metal can be. They do execute this differently though, using ambient characteristics to build a cavernous, yet monastic atmosphere. At no stage is the listener allowed to get comfortable though. Challenging material.
Try before you buy: Nw thänthidh (YouTube)
Royal Blood – Royal Blood
(Garage rock – United Kingdom)
Warner Bros. – 2014/08/22
This is what it sounds like when rock is done right. That such a rich rock sound came out of the humble two piece format is an impressive achievement. I can’t not make the comparison to the White Stripes, but where there is a certain quirkiness to Jack and Meg’s musical endeavours, Royal Blood punches through with a weird mix of noise rock and blues. I also like to think I hear titbits of Muse-esque oddness too. A raucous reaffirmation of rock’s heft.
Try before you buy: Figure It Out (YouTube)
Sineus – Demo
(Thrash – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/09/21
Nothing like a bit of primitive Slayer worship. There’s something very endearing about these four tracks. It sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. The drums are more papery than basement black metal. And there’s a general hollowness to the sound. But none of this detracts from the fact that they play an entertaining brand of thrash. It’s a tad light on solos, but those they do have are pretty sweet. Cracking first effort.
Try before you buy: Sodom’s Depravity (Bandcamp)
Skinflint – Nyemba
(Heavy metal – Botswana)
Self-released – 2014/09/06
This is a seriously enjoyable album. It occasionally lapses into moments when you wonder, “Where is this going?” But then it will click into gear with a kick-ass solo or a change of rhythm, so all is forgiven. It’s an album that is as fun as it is because it draws on metal’s earliest heritage, a time when heavy metal and hard rock weren’t all that dissimilar. Nyemba is just as often Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, as it is Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Good times.
Try before you buy: Veya (YouTube)
Torture Chamber – Qayin
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/09
This has tremolo picking, blastbeats, and inhuman vocals; all the hallmarks of a band who really want you to know they’re evil. And they’re a technically proficient group too. So if evil music played well is all you look for in black metal, Qayin is all you need. Myself, I look for a little bit more depth. Something that makes a band truly stand out. Black metal is littered with bands that can do the basics well, but is championed by bands that go further.
Try before you buy: The Blood of Angels (Bandcamp)
Videmur – Finality
(Black metal – Belgium/Puerto Rico)
Self-released – 2014/08/25
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had a great strike rate with the depressing stuff in 2014. Videmur changes that. Aside from being an album that encapsulates both the joy of accepting oblivion’s permanent embrace and self-loathing that drives a person to that point, Finality is loaded with surprising musical flourishes. This ensures that the album is consistently engaging, beguiling the listener deeper into the abyss. Beautiful bleakness.
Try before you buy: Desolate Essence (Bandcamp)
Wretched Excess – Away From This World
(Dark ambient – United States of America)
Illuminated Paths – 2014/07/17
There’s something deeply unsettling about this release. It’s akin to being tortured under heavy sedation; you know it can’t be good for you, but not only do you not care, you actually find the whole process pretty entertaining. The use of subtle atmospherics is remarkably well done, successfully turning dreamy soundscapes into eerie excursions into discomfort. The sheer amount of tact and delicacy it takes to make an album like this is incredible.
Try before you buy: Atlantis (Bandcamp)