Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Evil Has No Boundaries...Or Maybe It Does?

Does Metal have boundaries?  This is an interesting question implicitly brought up by none other than Dave Lombardo. 

In a recent interview, Lombardo was quoted as saying the following:
"I get the chance to play drums without limits. Believe it or not, metal has a lot of boundaries. When I play with these artists, the intensity and dynamics are so great because we're tapping into so many genres. Quite honestly, most music, in comparison, feels less exciting for me."
He continues:
"I've always been a fan of music that is left of center. It wasn't until I started to work with Patton that I realized I had the instinctual ability to play avant-garde style of music. When Patton introduced me to the first Fantomas demos, I felt very comfortable and connected with the music. When I performed 'Xu Feng' for the first time with John Zorn and his ensemble, I was comfortable and uninhibited. This is the most pure form of musical self expression."
(Note: in the former quote, he is referring to John Zorn and Mike Patton when he says "these artists")

Now, I think it's worth pointing out that he isn't talking about strictly about "improvised music vs. structured music".  Fantomas is highly structured in most of their music.  John Zorn has performed/composed his fair share of completely improvised material in the past, but 'Xu Feng' uses Zorn's game pieces style improvisation...so there is still an element of structure, although that structure is more or less random.

If that ("improvised vs. structured") were his complete argument, then I would say, "Yes, I absolutely agree that improvised music is more freeing and unlimited in possibilities than structured music."  However, he's not saying that.  He is saying that avant-garde, genre-hopping music is the most boundless. 

I will say that probably a good 99% of Metal is structured (Sunn O))) might be a noteworthy example of the 1%, though even they have SOME structure).  But the argument that Metal lacks an avant-garde nature?  C'mooooon, Dave!

OK, I will agree that most Metal bands don't experiment and are chained to the pre-conceived notions of their particular sub-genre (which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Slayer, for example, will never be that experimental.  Neither will Cannibal Corpse.  Or Judas Priest.  That is not what they do, and that would not be appealing to their fanbase.

However, on the flipside of the coin, you have bands like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Sigh, Kayo Dot/Maudlin of the Well, Dodheimsgard, Arcturus, Candiria, Locrian, Earth, Ulver, and Fleuerty, among many others, who have all flirted with the experimental/avant-garde.  Each of these bands has either employed a genre-hopping style (Sigh, Candiria), a stretching or pushing of an established genre's style (Dodheimsgard, Fleuerty, Locrian), or a complete abandonment of most if not all "Metal" elements (Ulver, Kayo Dot, Earth). 

I will agree with Lombardo in saying that, even with the more experimental Metal bands, there are often limits to what kind of sounds they will incorporate into their music (perhaps not for a very select few).  In a way, each band dictates the boundaries of their own music.  Some choose to dictate those boundaries by what is acceptable to their particular sub-genre, while others choose to dictate those boundaries completely on their own terms.  A select few probably don't have any boundaries in how their willing to experiment or the type of sounds they're willing to incorporate.

IMHO, I also don't think that most Metal bands are experimental just for the sake of being experimental. I sometimes think of John Zorn's and Mike Patton's projects are experimental just for the sake of being experimental, but that is certainly up for debate.

In any case, I think Lombardo was merely speaking from his own perspective from playing in Metal bands; specifically Slayer.  Slayer is obviously not going to throw in 30 seconds of polka jamming or ballet into one of their songs.  But that is certainly not the case for ALL Metal bands.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Asia Metal Festival 2014 in Seoul!!

Ahhhh!!!  I can't believe I didn't know about this!!  I also can't believe it's already been a year since the last one!!  If you remember, Malicious Intent did a bit of coverage of the show last time around for Asia Metal Festival 2013, but I've been a bit busy and distracted with other shit so this totally snuck up on me!!  Anyway, check it out!!

It looks like it's gonna be a great show, including:
Metamorphosis  (if anyone has a link to this band's official website or Facebook, please let me know!!)
Silent Eye
Earth Rot (Australia!!)
Survive  (Japan!!)

Looks like the show is on March 22 (Saturday) at 4:30 PM at the Alleh Square Dream Hall in Seoul!!

Hopefully I can make it, and if I do I hope to see you there!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wulf's Official Response to Decibel Magazine's Top 100 Black Metal Albums (part 5)

60.   "Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik" - Taake

I've actually never listened to Taake that much, which is surprising because usually I'm all over bands that are considered somewhat eccentric or have an heir of controversy surrounding them.   I haven't heard this particular album, but I remember listening to the one before it (1999's "Nattestid Ser Porten Vid") and enjoying it, especially the brilliant first track "Vid I", one of my favorite black metal songs of all time!!  Anyway, Hoest seems to have calmed down over the years as far as shock value goes, but that doesn't mean I still shouldn't check out more of his stuff!!

59.   "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant" - Dimmu Borgir

YEAH!!!  Haters gonna hate (it's been said a million times, but Jesus Christ that fucking top hat), but for me this is one of my favorite black metal albums of all time.  Dimmu Borgir, like so many of us who spent most of our teenage years in the early 2000s, was my gateway band into extreme metal.  When I was about 15 I was really into bands like Tool, Incubus, Slipknot, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers...at the time my friend Brad (see Accursed Wound) was really into Cannibal Corpse, and I remember thinking they were the most extreme shit I had ever heard in my life and couldn't understand why anyone would listen to that sort of thing.  Anyway, my metal journey began when I stumbled across an interview with Dimmu Borgir in Revolver...they were promoting their hugely successful "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia" album at the time, and I remember being intrigued by their image and "black metal" as an actual subgenre of heavy metal.  Really brutal, yet melodic heavy metal with an ORCHESTRA??  I had really enjoyed Metallica's "S&M" album, so I thought this could be really cool.  I downloaded a few Dimmu songs off of Kazaa (lol), and even though I initially started exploring extreme metal as a goof because I thought it was so absurd, it wasn't until I read Lords of Chaos a few months later that I really went off the deep end and never looked back.  
Anyway, though they're ridiculed and mocked by almost everyone nowadays and haven't put out a killer album in awhile, these guys will always have a place in my heart.  As for this album, it's definitely their best, although "Puritanical...", "Death Cult Armageddon", and even the original "Stormblast" are great too!!  What gets me is the sheer evil, ominous atmosphere and beautiful melodies that are completely in your face from the moment you start listening.  It's so completely, unapologetically cheesy and melodramatic, yet infectious and catchy at the same time, that it's easily one of the most fun and accessible albums on this list.  
If you combined the atmospheric keyboards of Emperor, the simplicity of Dark Funeral, and the Gothic imagery and over-the-top theatrics of Cradle of Filth, then you get these bros.  Highly, highly recommended as a good starting point into the genre, even if it isn't the most "kvlt" band in the world.

dat top hat

58.   "Fallen Angel of Doom" - Blasphemy

Before I write about this band, bear with me for a second because I'm still in nostalgia mode after writing about my early days of metal exploration (see above).  Y'see, after checking out Dimmu Borgir I realized that this was the kind of music I had been waiting to hear all my life, and that I was on the verge of something I knew would be a lifelong passion.  However, I didn't know where to start after Dimmu Borgir.  After talking with Judge Dredd (the only guy I knew at the time who was really into this shit) and getting a quick introduction on the different metal subgenres and that sort of thing, I decided to go to the local Hastings and check out some of the metal magazines that I had seen when looking for my shitty rock magazines like Hit Parader, Circus, Revolver, etc. (I also used to be really into Spin haha).  I was staying at my grandma's house that night, and after buying Ill Literature (the last issue too, R.I.P.!!) I stayed up all night, circling with a pen all the bands that seemed cool and that I would want to check out later.  It ended up being a great purchase too in that respect, because it's from that magazine that would influence my first metal CD purchases- Agalloch's "Pale Folklore" and "Of Stone, Wind, and Pillor" EP, Ancient Rites' "Dim Carcosa", and Dimmu Borgir's "Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia".   Anyway, the reason I'm going into all this back story is because one of the bands I read about in the reviews was Conqueror, a side project of one of Blasphemy's guitarists Ryan Förster (DeathLörd of Abomination & War Apocalypse).  In this review it described Conqueror as something like "unholy, devastating, Christ-raping black metal" or something like that, which really blew my mind as a 15 year-old.  Because I was raised Catholic, at the time the anti-Christian and Satanic lyrical themes of extreme metal had always made me a bit uneasy.  Obviously now that kind of thing doesn't bother me at all (as I'm not religious at all and am almost completely desensitized to anything metal can throw at us nowadays), but as I read about Conqueror it really opened my eyes (I hadn't read Lords of Chaos yet).  
Still haven't yet checked out Conqueror or Blasphemy, but I definitely will in the near future!!

57.   "Below the Lights" - Enslaved

When I first heard this album, I wasn't ready for it.  It was almost 11 years ago and I was still just getting into black metal and discovering bands like Emperor, (early) Ulver, and Immortal, so shit like this was just too weird for me.  I probably would have enjoyed Enslaved's first few albums (of that period, "Eld" is still my favorite), but this was a bit much as far as not quite being aggressive or cheesy for my tastes.  Judge Dredd dug it though!!  I should come back and give this album a listen, as I think Enslaved's later, progressive albums are great!

56.   "In Umbra Malitae Ambulabo, In Aeternum In Triumpho Tenebrarum" - Abruptum  

Ahh Abruptum.  So much mystery surrounding this goofy band and their goofy albums...Did they really record these albums during bouts of self-mutilation and altered consciousness??  What was Tony Särkkä's deal (IT?? C'mon...)??  Were they actually serious (Vondur, anyone??)??
I've never actually given this album a listen, so I probably should before I make fun of them, but we used to play "Evil Genius" and Vondur's "The Galactic Rock'n'Roll Empire" EP on the radio show sometimes for a goof and I remember not being able to take it seriously at all.  
We may never know what they're deal was...I feel like even if Särkkä ever does actually publish that book he's been working on, it will probably just end up raising more questions.  

55.   "Heart of the Ages" - In the Woods...

This is another band I checked out during my early metal exploration Kazaa days.  I remember being interested in them after reading about their connections with Green Carnation (another band I had read about in that last issue of Ill Literature I've been talking about).  At the time, I really dug their weird style and experimental take on black metal, even if I enjoyed Ulver's early stuff a lot more as far as songwriting and quality.   I think it's also the first time I ever heard the high-pitched, "dude screaming" black metal vokills as opposed to the typical rasps or shrieks that usually take place.   If you don't know what I mean, listen to the first track when the metal kicks in...you'll see what I mean.   Interesting stuff, definitely worth revisiting.   

54.   "The Codex Necro" - Anaal Nathrakh  

I haven't listened to this album as much as Anaal Nathrakh's later stuff, but I'll bet it's pretty similar.  Great band, but I gotta be in the mood for it.  Definitely not the kind of thing you want to put on when you're hungover at 10 AM on a sunday.  
Anyway, I got into these guys I used to despise programmed drums.   What was the point, when a real drummer sounded so much better?  I refused to believe that they couldn't find someone to drum on the album, especially if they could get some joker who could somehow pull it off in a live setting (also, this was a few years ago before drum programming really started to sound like the real thing).   However, I realized that the cold, mechanical nature of robot drums really brought something to the band's sound that a human drummer wouldn't be able to replicate.   Coupled with the grim, industrial-esque production and V.I.T.R.I.O.L.'s nihilistic rage, this was something that was new and interesting for its time...the sound of the black metal of tomorrow.

53.   "Nifelheim" - Nifelheim

I've always wanted to check out Nifelheim!!  I've heard their music is killer, and I've always dug their image and enthusiasm, but for whatever reason it's just never worked out.  Sorry guys!!  Very soon!!

52.   "Instinct: Decay" - Nachtmystium

Like most people, I've always thought Nachtmystium sucked up until this album.  In fact, I blew a huge opportunity to see just how good they were at this time when I went to their show when they played with 1349, Goatwhore, Averse Sefira, and Unmerciful in Topeka, Kansas back in 2007 or so (my car got broken that night, fucking sucked haha).  I remember Professor Grindstein and I left the show briefly after watching Unmerficul and Averse Sefira for some reason, probably because I needed to use an ATM and Grindstein wanted to get cigarettes or something.  Yeah, we would miss most of Nachtmystium, but those dudes fucking sucked, right??  When we finally got back, we walked in and I realized that even though we were at the tail end of the set, they sounded A LOT different than what I had assumed...it was clearly a black metal band on stage, but their style seemed a lot more experimental, melodic, and, dare I say, psychedelic.   I hadn't really heard anything like it before, and then when I finally checked out "Instinct: Decay" I realized what a fool I had been!!  
I still haven't explored this particular album as much as Nachtmystium's later albums (especially the brilliant "Black Meddle" albums that would follow this one), but it's obviously really creative, brilliant stuff that was a breath of fresh air in a stagnating scene; a leader in the renaissance of American black metal.  It's a shame Blake Judd turned out to be such a turd in the end, but at least he's in good company with other BM asshole geniuses (Varg Vikernes, Famine, Rob Darken, etc.).

51.   "Lurker of Chalice" - Lurker of Chalice

I actually listened to Lurker of Chalice before I had ever really given Leviathan a chance, and IIRC I liked this album more than anything Leviathan ever put out.   I should give it another listen, but I remember really digging the atmosphere of this album a lot...it was a lot more ominous and subtle than Leviathan's in-your-face tantrums of rage and despair.   I could be wrong, but it reminded me more of Xasthur than Leviathan.   I'm excited to come back to this album, I remember really enjoying it!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wulf's Top 10 Metal Albums of 2013 Insanity

So there it is, another year down the drain!! I really wish I had spent more time listening to what came out last year because there seems to have been a lot of good stuff, but unfortunately these days I spend most of my time listening to stupid podcasts and comedians :(
Anyway, that being said, there were still some great albums I did manage to check out, so here's a list of the best music that tortured my eardrums for 2013!!

10.  " Abusing Dismembered Beauties" - Vulvectomy

Yeah, it's a pretty gross first pick to start things off, but I almost had to include this album as a protest to how disappointed I was with the new Devourment album. While this isn't an amazing album by any stretch of the imagination (and even straight up plagiarizes Devourment, see the track "Dirty Rotten Infibulation" (around the 2:25 mark for a complete rip off of a riff from Devourment's classic(k) "Babykiller") but whatever). Also, some of the samples are a bit lame, but besides that this is still a really fun album that brings the brutal vokillz, pummeling drums (even though they're programmed, they sound damn good!!), and, of course, SIKK FUKKING SLAMZ!!!

9.   "Labyrinth" - Fleshgod Apocalypse

While as a whole this album isn't that great (lame cover art too :/), holy shit does it make up for it with energy and enthusiasm.  I guess this is supposed to be some grand concept album about Theseus slaying the Minotaur of Crete, but I didn't dwell too much on this.  Instead, I really just enjoyed this album purely from the music alone-- it's ridiculously over-the-top, bombastic, and fast as fuck!!  It works really great as the soundtrack to something like the God of War series of video games, as the sheer epicness and brutality of the music definitely conjures up images of clashing armies, powerful wizards, impossibly huge structures, and an overall Hollywood-esque aesthetic.
If Rhapsody of Fire (fellow Italians!) ever got bored and decided to be as brutal as possible without kicking out Alex Staropoli, it would probably sound like this.

8.   "Sunbather" - Deafheaven

This is another album that's been talked about to death this year so I don't really have much else to offer, other than that it's a great follow-up to 2011's "Roads to Judah", and that it just goes to show that post-black metal is still one of hottest genres in metal right now (the other being, of course, occult rock).  
Is it still black metal if you take away the Satanism, the corpsepaint, the obsession with nature and misanthropy, and instead focus on emotions and feelings?  Does it ruin a band's credibility if the main fanbase draws from both metalheads and NPR/Pitchfork dorks?  If the music is this good, I would say it doesn't matter.   Yeah yeah, it's essentially The Get Up Kids playing black metal, but you can tell it's genuine.  Also, it takes balls to experiment like this and piss off the hordes of black metal basement dwellers, so to do this AND pull it off shows that these dudes know what they're doing.  Anyway, I'm still exploring this album so I don't know really what else to say at the moment since I really need to publish this post and get on with my life.  I will leave you with this:  Don't be turned off by the haters!  Listen to it for yourself!  THIS is something that truly takes black metal to the next level, much more so than whatever the fuck Liturgy have been trying to pull off with their "transcendental black metal" nonsense. 

7.   "Das Tor" - Paysage D'Hiver

I don't know what it is about Paysage that has always attracted me.   Whenever I listen his (Wintherr's) black metal releases, I always feel as if I'm tuning into some kind of obscure frequency on an old radio, with bizarre, abrasive black metal/static emitting from the speakers and drawing me into a strange world of icy landscapes, alien intelligence, and unrelenting, freezing winds.   His ambient stuff, such as "Die Festung", is also excellent, and is awesome as background music for an RPG night (except Professor Grindstein AKA Gorgoroth the Barbarian just felt like we were listening to Hearts of Space on NPR haha).
Anyway, Judge Dredd may have thought it was just raw black metal nonsense, but for me it was one of the best black metal releases of the year!!  When I first heard this I was running some errands on a super gloomy, rainy day, and while it wasn't exactly the most bitter, grim and frostbitten day of the year, it was enough to really feel the music.  My imagination was transported to that bleak, sorrowful world again, where the riffs, like the wind, droned on and on, almost hypnotically.  I'm getting a little melodramatic at this point, but you get the idea of what this album is all about.  I guess if you mixed Burzum's atmosphere and vision with the horror of Xasthur and the rawness of Striborg, you get Paysage D'Hiver.  Enjoy!!

6.   "Halo of Blood" - Children of Bodom

I know I might get made fun of for putting Bodom on here because I'm not 16 anymore, but I'm just happy that they finally picked up where "Hate Crew Deathroll" left off and finally released a quality album, even if it took them 11 fucking years to do it (In Flames, we're still waiting for you to come around)!!  Anyway, there's not really much to say other than it's arguably the closest we're gonna get to the "classic CoB sound", with catchy songs, great performances and production, and an overall fun atmosphere that distinguished the band early on from all the other melodic death metal bands back the early-mid 2000s.   Fucking finally!!!  Welcome back dudes!!

Fun fact:  Children of Bodom actually stayed at the hotel I was working at when I was living in Sydney...not only did I get to meet Jaska Raatikainen (who was pretty quiet, but nice) at like 7AM, but after the band left they accidently left their tour photo album at the hotel (titled "Dirty Laundry" haha).  While I did get a chance to sneak a peak and check out all the behind the scenes shenanigans the band was up to on this tour, unfortunately there wasn't really very much in the way of shocking lewd pics or anything incriminating, so that was kind of disappointing.  Maybe a few years ago when the band was boozing it up a lot more I would have stumbled across something more crazy... :D

5.   "Peste Noire" - Peste Noire

While not as good as 2011's "L'Ordure à l'état Pur", this is still a good album!!  Part of what really does it for me with this band is the hype, controversy, and sheer arrogance that this band brings to the table (to get a taste of what I'm talking about, check out this interview).
Anyway, I'm actually still digesting this album because there's so much crap going on, but overall it retains the core PN sound (messy, sloppy guitars and production, medieval France atmosphere) with catchy riffs and classical guitar accompaniments and interludes (along with a host of other folk instruments as well).   Ardraos is a killer new drummer as well, with a loose, rickety playing technique that really compliments Famine's style)  Also featuring a slew of guests, if you're a fan of the band you'll probably like this release as well.  I wish I could expand more on this right now, but it's already February 2014 and I'm trying to put this out ASAP!!
Anyway, Famine may be nutty as fuck, but unlike Varg Vikernes, his Norwegian counterpart, it appears like he still knows what he's doing when it comes to releasing quality music.

4.   "Colored Sands" - Gorguts

A labyrinthine death metal masterpiece that sounds as if it was recorded underwater is probably the best I can do as far as describing what "Colored Sands" sounds like to me.  Seriously, put on some headphones and listen to some Hour of Penance or Katalepsy, and then immediately afterwards switch to this record and you'll notice the bizarre production.  What's cool though is that it totally works-- I think it was brilliant to leave the vocals kind of buried in the mix and have the guitars and bass dominate...definitely gives it a crushing, suffocating feeling that really gives it adds a lot to its unique atmosphere.  It also doesn't hurt that the riffs and songwriting are unusual as well.  Yeah, we're talking about Gorguts, but you can't forget that besides Luc Lemay it's an all-star virtuoso lineup with Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia), Colin Marston (Krallice, Behold the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia), and John Longstreth (Origin, a bunch of other brutal DM bands) tearing it up as well.  Anyway, while it may not be for everyone (I wouldn't describe it as a "fun" record like the usual stuff I like), it's definitely worth checking out!!  I really enjoyed it mainly for the production, atmosphere, and individual musicians' performances as a whole rather than the actual songs themselves :)
Great album art, too!!

3.   "Surgical Steel" - Carcass

Every dummy knows that this is one of the best metal albums of 2013.  It was on everyone's "best of the year" lists, and for good reason!!  The songs are catchy, the production is top-notch, and it's pretty much everything you could want in a badass comeback album from one of metal's most cherished bands!!  There's not really much else to say about it, other than it's a lot of fun and is a great addition to the mighty Carcass discography!

2.   "Obscure Verses for the Multiverse" - Inquisition

Another killer release by a killer band (both in the studio and live), while it's not quite as good as their last record, "Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm" (in terms of production and songwriting), it's definitely still a masterpiece.  There's already been a ton written about this album, so I'm just going to keep it short and say that this one's got all the trademark Inquisition stuff-- the hypnotic, swirling riffs, Dagon's croak, fresh and organic drumming, occult lyrics and atmospherics, etc.  One of my favorite things about this band is their fixation on the link between Satanism and the cosmos, something I've always found fascinating just because I think outer space is scary as fuck. 
Anyway, while a lot of people are turned off by Dagon's Tuvan throat singing-esque vokillz, there's no denying the power of their deadly combo of catchy riffs, pounding drums, and evil atmosphere.

1.   "Henbane" - Cultes Des Ghoules

Are CDG the new Watain??  It seems like everyone was pretty disappointed with "The Wild Hunt", and perhaps the whole "evil mystique" shtick with the band is a bit played out due to their relentless touring and appearance on covers of major metal magazines Terrorizer and Decibel, it seems like the doomed masses have found another BM horde to rule for some time as kvlt kings of all things grim and frostbitten.   There was tons of hype surrounding this release among IMNs, which is pretty surprising considering that the band doesn't do too much in the way of interviews or publicity, and has no official website or other social networking platform.   Anyway, as it turns out, unlike Watain's "The Wild Hunt", the hype here was well-deserved.
What I really love about Cultes Des Ghoules' music is a combination of the evil, ritualistic atmosphere they create, coupled with the primitive, vintage, fuzzed-out production...kind of like old-school Bathory jamming with Electric Wizard.  On top of that, the riffs are great too, with some truly brilliant moments (see the second track, "The Passion of a Sorceress", for where this record truly shines), but the real star of the show is Mark of the Devil's insane vocal performance.  He screams and howls like an absolute madman, and really gives off the impression like he's completely fucking possessed by whatever demon or evil spirit he's attempting to invoke.  Sheer "Vintage Black Magic" indeed!!

So there you have it everyone!!  My top 10!!  I was going to do more for this post, like list my favorite songs, favorite videos, disappointing releases, etc. but I'm so fucking sick of laboring over this and thinking about all the metal that came out in 2013 that I just want to finish it.  Anyway, I'm excited to see what 2014 has in store for us, I've already got my Spotify up and am currently exploring some of the stuff that has already come out, so check back again soon for more updates and other tomfoolery!!  Peace!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The State of Metal 2013: Judge Dredd's Dreaded Top 10 of 2013

Listen, I’m Judge Dredd...so, that’s what you call me - or El Dredderino if you’re not into that whole brevity thing.  I have a very particular, humbug taste in Metal.  If a band is only trying to sound as br00tal or as kvlt as possible, then chances are I will not like said band.  I will also echo Sergeant D in saying that I’m really tired of all of these bands just retreading old ground.  Sure, there are bands like SubRosa who expand and experiment with the worn-out canvas of Proto-Metal.  However, 99% of these bands coming out now doing Old School Death Metal or Proto-Metal I find to be incredibly unnoteworthy (*yaaaawn*).  The proverbial dead horse being beaten.
That said, if a band has a distinct style, writes memorable songs, or has some emotional depth (or any combination thereof); chances are that I will enjoy them a great deal.  If I don’t enjoy them, I will at least have a lot of respect for them.

After 2012’s blowout of amazing albums, I was fairly certain that this year would be a relative letdown.  And…it kind of was, to be perfectly honest.  But I mean, c’mon…almost all of my favorite bands released albums in 2012.  It was almost unfair that 2013 really even existed (maybe it didn’t and we’re all just in the Matrix…?)

Well, enough of the whine fest, here is my Top 10 for 2013:

Best of the Best

10. Glorior Belli - "Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls"

Glorior Belli’s 2011 effort, “The Great Southern Darkness” (TGSD), was my second favorite album of that particular year.  Not only were the songs on that album memorable and (gasp!) even relatively catchy at times, but they were able to mix Black Metal and Southern Metal without sounding pastiche. 

For some reason, even after hearing a pre-released track from “Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls” (GR, CU), several months ago, I had completely forgotten that they were due to release a new album this year.  Having now listened to it in all of its southern-fried, whiskey-soaked Satanic glory, I can now safely name it as one of my favorite albums this year.

Glorior Belli more or less continued the same sound on "GR, CU" that they had on "TGSD".  However, there are glimpses of a melodicism that was not on "TGSD".  After having listened to both albums more or less back to back, I can safely admit that "GR, CU" has just as good of songs as its predecessor, if not better.

9.  Carcass - "Surgical Steel"

2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the monolithically influential album, "Heartwork".  An album conjured by The Original Gods of Grind and Gore themselves, Carcass.  I think it's safe to say that everyone was waiting with held breaths; expecting a massive letdown with their comeback album.  However, "Surgical Steel" proved to be just the opposite.  There is not much that hasn't already been said about this album, so I will refrain from my typical loquaciousness and merely say this is one of the best Death Metal albums I have heard in a very long time.

Keep on rotting in the free world, Carcass!

8.  Locrian - "Return to Annihilation" 

THIS was the biggest surprise for me this year.  I've only heard some of Locrian's material here and there.  Not being a fan of sparse, minimalistic music in general, I had quite frankly written them off.  It wasn't until "Return to Annihilation" was featured on Invisible Oranges that I decided to give them another shot, and oh my, am I glad I did!  

Tracks like "Two Moons" (a reference to "1Q84", perhaps?) are otherwordly, while tracks like "Return to Annihilation" conjure the anxiety and dread of bands like SWANS.  

An incredibly well done album. 

7.  Dillinger Escape Plan - "One of Us Is the Killer"

While "Calculating Infinity" will always be my favorite DEP album (as well as my top 10 all-time heavy albums), there has not been one year in which DEP have released an album that they have not made my top 10 list for said year.  

Probably not the best explanation for why they made my top 10 list this year, but hey - it's FUCKING DILLINGER.  Expect quality.

6.  Deafheaven - "Sunbather"

When I heard the title track, I knew almost immediately that this would be one of my favorites of 2013.  Loads has been written about this particular Post-Black Metal gem, so I will refrain from echoing what has been said by hundreds of other reviewers.  I just want to say this was a huge step up from 2011's "Roads to Judah" in terms of musicianship, emotiveness, and sound exploration.  For me, they are really expanding on the American Post-Black Metal sound with this album, and I hope other bands will follow suit with their own expansions of the unspoken Post-Black Metal rulebook.
An emotional and epic audio journey. 

5.  Tribulation - "The Formulas of Death"

If someone were to ask me, "Your Exalted Dreddness, which mighty release of 2013 doth thou'st believeth to be hailed as a classic for all time?"  I would most assuredly respond, "Why, 'The Formulas of Death', you fool!  Now, to the guillotine with you for such an insolent question!!!"

Seriously, though.  As soon as I heard the first opening distorted chords after the trippy psychedelic intro, I knew that this wasn't going to be just another mediocre Black Metal release.  Oh no, this was some altogether different monster, my metal brothers and sisters.  
I think "Formulas..." was the biggest surprise for me this year besides "Return to Annihilation" by Locrian.  I had never even heard of Tribulation before I saw them at #10 on Decibel’s Top 40 Albums of 2013 list a month or two ago.  While there are some clear nods to Dissection (and vis-à-vis, Watain) in the songwriting, riffing, and vocals, Tribulation aren't merely rip-offs.  No, not by a long shot. There are influences of psychedelia and rock all over the place.  Not only are there sitar-like, middle eastern sounding passages scattered throughout the release, but there are "loud and soft" dynamics that one does not oft find in generic Black Metal.  

My only complaint is that at 75 minutes, it does drag on a little bit.  I could imagine this release being only 45 minutes, and still feeling like I had just listened to a complete product. 

Despite this feeble complaint, this album MIGHT go down as a classic in the years to come.   

4.  Anciients - "Hearts of Oak"
Well, this band certainly came out of nowhere!  Equal parts Opeth, Mastodon, and Classic/Proto-Metal makes for one fucking incredible album.  These guys are absolutely experts at crafting memorable and dynamic Metal/Rock songs. 

Not much more to say other than that!  Looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future!

3.  Cult of Luna - "Vertikal"

When this came out at the beginning of the year, I was quick to call “Vertikal” my favorite Cult of Luna release.  After giving it some months’ time, I can still say that it at least rivals my other favorite CoL release, “Somewhere Along the Highway” (2006).  It seems as though the elongated break between “Eternal Kingdom” (2008) and “Vertikal” is just what CoL needed to expand and experiment with their established sound.

While the typical build-ups and climaxes of post-metal's (and CoL's) typical sound are still present, there is a variety of experimentation that CoL has simply not had on their other releases.  For example, intro and interlude ("The One" and "The Sweep", respectively), showcase a heavy use of synthesizers, which to me brings to mind 80s and early 90s Sci-Fi (for some reason 'Terminator' comes to mind).  Another more "out there" track is the drugged-out "Passing Through", which closes the album out simply with some filtered vocals, a single guitar line, a repeating melody on bells, and finally some synthesizer.  Quite different from the maximalist approach that the band usually takes to instrumentation.

The whole album takes on a mechanized, robotic quality, yet still retains very human emotions.  A great release from a band that has finally gone from Post-Metal wannabes to Post-Metal masters.

2.  Castevet - "Obsian"

After enjoying their 2010 debut, “Mounds of Ash”, a great deal, I had high expectations for Castevet’s sophomore effort.  Personally, I think they have far surpassed their debut with the release of "Obsian".

One thing that I’ve noticed about “Obsian” as opposed to “Mounds of Ash” is that while “Mounds of Ash” seemed to have one foot in the transcendental and one in the terrestrial, “Obsian” seems to have both feet firmly planted in the transcendental.  I’m an absolute sucker for ineffable music – music that expresses the inexpressible. "Obsian" most assuredly fits the bill.

Furthermore, "Obsian" seems much more focused as one continuous piece of work, even while the individual songs themselves seem somewhat fluid.  But this quality of fluidity is certainly not equivalent to "meandering".  I guess what I'm saying is that the structures of the song SEEM more open than they were on "Mounds of Ash".

Besides Andrew Hock's mystical and fluid, yet abrasive, guitar playing, Nicholas McMaster (Krallice, et al) adds a punchy, expressive bass that really ties everything together.  Much like Colin Marston did on "Colored Sands", McMaster seems to be keenly aware of the balance between technical prowess and playing in the pocket.
An amazing sophomore effort.

1.  Gorguts – ‘Colored Sands’

And after years of dark tunnels…he came to silence…there was nothing…”

This opening line from Emperor’s swansong describes my feelings towards waiting for the new Gorguts album (but is probably more apt in describing my feelings towards a new Necrophagist album…).

After years of setbacks and unfulfilled promises, my favorite Death Metal band ever released an album that surprisingly fulfilled the years of hype.  From the YouTube rehearsal videos between Luc Lemay and John Longstreth, to the announcement that two of my other favorite Metal musicians, Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston, would be joining the newest incarnation, to the two or three pre-released tracks provided by various Metal news outlets; my expectations were at an orgasmic peak.

Nonetheless, I can honestly say that it took me a while to blow my load over "Colored Sands".  However, after I let it sink in, I think it truly measures up to their last two releases, and may even surpass them in certain ways.  It should be made clear that their last two releases ("Obscura" (1998) and "From Wisdom to Hate" (2001)) are two of my favorite Metal releases of all time, so measuring up or surpassing my opinion of these releases is no small feat.  

As mentioned earlier, one element that raised my expectations tenfold for this album was the fact that Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston would be in the new lineup.  Hufnagel seems to be following Luc Lemay's lead throughout most of the album, but Marston's bass performance is phenomenal!  While he gets out of the pocket at moments with some tasty technical lines, he comes right back into just laying it down in the pocket.  I think it really adds another dimension to the album.  

I was also impressed with John Longstreth's performance.  While he is a total maniac machine gunner of a drummer in Origin, he totally replicates earlier Gorguts drummers' styles on the new album, while still adding his own unique flair.  Additionally, he adds much more space to the music than he does in Origin.

And, of course, there is Luc Lemay.  From what I remember reading, almost all of the songs and guitar parts were written by Mr. Lemay.  Enough said.

Although I don't think ALL of the songs are as memorable or as incredible as some past Gorguts material, there is no doubt in mind that my favorite Death Metal band has returned with a vengeance.

Best EPs

I generally decline to include EPs in my top albums of the year as just a personal policy.  But this year, there were two EPs that blew me away and left me wanting more.

Fallujah - "Nomadic"

As much as I’ve strayed away from the mundane sensationalism of most Death Metal, there are still a handful of DM bands that continue to inject some emotion into their particular sound (Obscura being another example).  On Fallujah’s EP, they have ditched much of the unnecessary br00tality of their previous album in favor of a more dynamic, melodic, and emotive sound.  A surprisingly quiet ambient track is sandwiched between two great heavier tracks.  This writer, for one, is looking forward to their next full length.

Mutoid Man - "Helium Head"

Stephen Brodsky is one of my favorite musicians, and I tend to get attached to just about anything the man touches.  I know what you're thinking...but my peener is already attached to me, you silly billy!

But seriously, this EP rocks fucking hard.  It's a shame they're a "one-and-done" side project!

Biggest Disappointment:

Beaten to Death - "Dodsfest!"

What the hell happened?!  2011's "Xes and Strokes" is one of my favorite Metal albums of the last few years.  With a angular, yet oddly melodic sound attached to some crushing Grindcore, Beaten to Death are one of a kind!  However, this album just has bad production and unmemorable songs compared to "Xes and Strokes".  I have no idea where they made a wrong turn.  I guess I am the only one who thinks this way, because I've only read good reviews for this album!  To each his own, I suppose.

Honorable Mentions (in no specific order)

Batillus -"Concrete Sustain"
Inquisition - "Obscure Verses for the Multiverse"
Iron Lung - "White Glove Test"
Celeste - "Animale(s)"
Code - "Augur Nox"
Ulcerate - "Vermis"
Nero Di Marte - "Nero Di Marte"
Beastmilk - "Climax"
Nails - "Abandon All Life"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Mark of the Beast top 10 of 2013

So here's the only top 10 in the world of metal that actually matters, and to think 99% of metalheads won't even see it... shame. 2013 was a fun year. As far as the top 10 goes, the top 2 are top-notch material while the rest are merely awesome. There's been better years but what can ya do?! I'm not gonna put a youtube for every single album because you're perfectly capable of doing that and it gets kind of annoying trying to scroll through 10 youtubes. On with the show!

10. Dark Tranquility - Construct

What's up DT! In case you lost these guys in the fray over the years, this album is actually really good. I grew up on melodic metal like In Flames and DT, but instead of going down the path of suck like In Flames did with age, DT has remained consistently good. And I don't know if it's studio magic or what but holy shit does Mikael Stanne's voice sound good at 39. It's actually the best I've heard it, clean harmonic singing as well as strong as ever screams. Kudos to him because if you've ever heard Anders Frieden lately... ugh. Really good effort by these guys, and that makes me happy.

9. Thyrfing - De Ödeslösa

Thyrfing came back from the dead much to my delight with this one. This has actually been a good year for band resurrections, more on that later. This is actually their best album since they abandoned my beloved synth-heavy viking metal sound :( The acoustic guitar that they employ throughout this album really works and is an unexpected element from them. It still has that plodding Thyrfing style and gives me joy that they're still around making music.

8. Gorguts - Colored Sands

I imagine when the current lineup of Gorguts got together in hopes of making their first album in 12 years, they had one question on their minds: Will a new album be good enough to make Mark of the Beast's top 10?  Well congratulation boys, you made the right decision! Sometimes risks just pay off, and this album is a great representation of that. This album is too complex for my brain to process, but if you like intriguing, chaotic, technical, mind-rumbling music, you'll enjoy this one.

7.  Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

RAISE THE CHALLICE! RAISE THE CHALLICE! RAISE THE CHALLICE! These are words I repeat with a horrifying scowl upon my corpse-painted face every day because of this fuckin album. One of my life philosophies that I try to live by every day is that there's nothing wrong with black metal done right. These guys have the added benefit of being just over the top and ridiculous about it. There's so many quality black metal moments in this thing. If you think about it, this is our modern day Burzum, Darkthrone, etc. These guys are keeping the dream alive in the 2010's! I recommend taking a night off, pouring some cosmopolitans and just blasting this album while headbanging and scowling to your heart's content. It's good for the soul.

6. Heathen Foray - Inner Force

Think of these guys as a cross between Ensiferum and the almighty Thronar!! I can't have Thronar anymore so these fill that need nicely. This is their second effort and they really did a good job at refining their sound for some awesome songs. If you like feeling good while thinking about the days of viking past, and enjoy some outstanding guitar work in the process, please check this album out. The following song has everything you need in a viking metal song honestly. Well done sirs!

5. Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods

Speaking of viking metal, there's these guys. Now as much as I love me some vikings, I never really got too into Amon Amarth. I think maybe I've been too focused on pretty bands with lots of instruments, trying to expand my mind too much while listening to some guy scream about Odin's hammer or socket wrench or something. But Amon Amarth brings me back down to Earth and makes me realize that sometimes all you need are some crushing viking melodies to make you feel good. These songs have caught my attention more than their past albums, and with songs like Under Seige you just can't help but headbang god damnit.

4. Peste Noire - Peste Noire

It's the return of La PN! One of the best things about listening to a Peste Noire album for the first time is I genuinely have no idea what to expect at any given second of any song. Blast beats, speed picking, guttural vocals, accordion, hurdy gurdy, acoustic guitar, chickens clucking, techno beats, some weird fucking horn, anything goes with Famine. It's really unlike any other metal experience. Everything from the vocals to the music to the atmosphere is just completely bizarre, while still giving you that black metal goodness you need to make it through the day. One thing I like about this particular La PN album is there are some seriously crushing parts in some of the songs, something I've not seen from them yet, and I really like it. The only reason why this album isn't vying for #1 is the ridiculous production. I know it's Famine, and that's part of their charm, but at 5 albums into their career they don't need to record on one of these anymore:

3. Falkenbach - Asa

Here's another band, like Amon Amarth, that I like but never really got into. But this album just does something for me. I think 6 albums in, Vratyas has really found his stride, and he has laid it all out in this half folk, half metal album. It sounds similar to the other albums but I think the clean vocals and acoustic guitar have really hit their mark with this one. There's just so much passion in his voice, and cmon the olde style English and Icelandic mix that he uses just adds to it. I tend to gaze out over the horizon while listening to this album for the full effect. If you're a fan of folk music, check this out and you'll be pleased. There's not even that much screaming in it for the normal people yay!

2. Written in Torment - Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes

Written in Torment? Oh sweet is that a new Deathcore band bro? Go kill yourself. This is some black metal right here son. If you don't have this album yet, go get it now! This is a one-man band of pure solidified grim. I would describe Written in Torment as a faster black metal version of Arghoslent with a hint of Dissection. Basically what Leviathan said here was "I'm going to work on my guitar work until you're literally forced to like this shit."  This is just black metal done right I keep saying it. It makes you feel good about yourself and life in general, not something that's easy to accomplish while singing about Satan burning down the mortal world. The guitar work is just relentless and combines black metal riffage with complex arpeggios. And that palm mute riff shit he does at 1:10 in A Pig Hung in Golgotha.. I don't even know. Listen now!

1.  Summoning - Old Mornings Dawn

And that brings us to the grand champion of 2013, hell yes it's Summoning! The last time Summoning came out with an album (Oath Bound) I was playing Oblivion in my $175 a month apartment with that in the background, and loving every second of it. It brings me back to simpler days. Basically the deal with Summoning is this: if you played RPG video games and/or D&D, you will appreciate this music. If you didn't you probably wonder what the big deal is. Well I played hella Final Fantasy, Ogre Tactics, Shining Force, Magestorm, so when I heard this album was coming, boy was I excited. But I really didn't anticipate the emotions that this album would invoke inside me. When I got the album, I must've listened to the title track about 50 times in a row, just loving every second of it. Old Mornings Dawn is why I listen to metal, to achieve that feeling of pure bliss via music that only metal has been able to provide me. I just had a huge smile on my face while listening through this thing. The atmosphere, the epicness! It just really made an impression on me and I knew this was going to be my #1. I really hope these guys make at least one more, even if I have to wait 7 more years. Just look at these guys and tell me they don't make some real shit:

It's albums like this that will make me eternally happy. I will say that this album was a little more wide-ranging than their previous ones, going from fantasy to dark to inspirational to solemn. I don't know if that makes any sense but I really love what they did for this one. J.R. Tolkein himself would be proud. So thank you Summoning for bestowing us all this great gift of metal! Mark of the Beast out.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wulf's Official Response to Decibel Magazine's Top 100 Black Metal Albums (part 4)

70. "Scorn Defeat" - Sigh

I think it's pretty cool when bands start out super kvlt and then get all weird on everyone.  In a similar vein as Arcturus, Ulver, and Enslaved, Sigh's roots lie in evil black metal grimness.  I can't talk too much about it because I'm not very evil and have only listened to Sigh's later shit (starting with the classic "Hail Horror Hail"), but I'll bet it's still good stuff.  Just look at that promo pic!!

69. "Ravendusk in my Heart" - Diabolical Masquerade

I remember thinking this album was pretty good, but am completely baffled why anyone who is a fan of this band would choose ANY of their albums over "Death's Design", one of my favorite metal albums of all time!! Anyway, that doesn't mean this album sucks or anything like that, it's got its share of catchy riffs and good production (even though I hate drum programming that sounds obviously fake), but if you're going to check out this band I'd definitely recommend "Death's Design" over any of their other albums! The songwriting, production, concept, and overall quality in general is way better!  C'mon, Decibel!!

68. "Incipit Satan" - Gorgoroth

I'm actually in the middle of listening to Gorgoroth's discography right now, but unfortunately I haven't made it to "Incipit Satan" (surprise, surprise :/ ).  I guess is the first album with Gaahl officialy on lead vocals, and pretty much set the standard for what most people think of when someone mentions the band...even though it feels weird to call it the "classic" lineup.  Anyway, I'm not an expert so whatever!  I'm sure this is a cool album, as Gaahl's vocals are unique and this was back when Gorgoroth was still considered pretty controversial and evil.  This was before all the drama between Infernus and Gaahl and King ov Hell, the formation of two Gorgoroths, King ov Hell putting out the kind of shitty Ov Hell album, and Gaahl coming out of the closet, doing musicals, and becoming a goofy internet meme.  I'm excited to see what this one has to offer!!

67. "Casus Luciferi" - Watain

I've got this one on my iPod, but as usual I haven't listened to it yet and am only familiar with Watain's later stuff.  Ugh, maybe doing this response to Decibel's Top 100 BM Albums was a mistake!!  The only reason I started it was because Judge Dredd and Mark of the Beast were making fun of me for not participating very much in its discussion on our Facebook group chat, so I decided to show them what was up and make an entire blog series about it.  Now it's turning out almost as bad as the infamous Watain interview I did several years ago!
Speaking of Watain, this album is a kvlt classic and blah blah I'm sure it's evil as fuck, especially compared to this latest Watain album which has Erik Danielsson doing clean vocals (haha).

66. "Dark Metal" - Bethlehem

Back when I was a DJ at Malicious Intent that we had this album in the stacks, and unfortunately when I listened to it I wasn't that impressed. It's possible that I was intoxicated at the time or something like that and wasn't really paying attention, but I'll bet the real reason I was disappointed was because I was expecting it to sound like their following album, "Dictius te Necare". Hooooooooly SHIT is that a nuts album!! Obviously the most striking thing about it is Rainer Landfermann's completely batshit insane vocals, but there's all sorts of other interesting stuff going on at the same time as well. Anyway, this is supposed to be my take on "Dark Metal", so I guess I'll just have to risk sounding like a broken record and just say that I'll come back to this one soon.

65. "Telepathic With the Deceased" - Xasthur

Yeah!!  I know this one!!  What a creepy album!!  If you've ever watched Vice's/Noisey's black metal documentary "One Man Metal", you know that Malefic is a creepy dude.  Wrest comes off as just a super emo dude with a lot of anger, and Sin Nanna as a kind of weird, tripped out Aussie hippie, but Malefic seems like the most disturbed out of the bunch.  Even though his music is arguably the cheesiest and at times would work well as the soundtrack to a haunted house carnival ride or your local Halloween superstore, it definitely works well by itself as something to listen to in complete darkness as you contemplate the infinity of death or whatever.  Haunting keyboards, hypnotic riffs, this is a DSBM classic!!

Malefic is always a laugh riot at parties!!

64. "Blood Ritual" - Samael

I've always wanted to listen to Samael's black metal stuff just because I've always heard it was good and it's so different from what they put out now.  I don't really know much about their "current sound" other than what I gathered from their 2004 "Telepath" music video which was featured on some Nuclear Blast compilation DVD, but I do know that it was definitely not black metal!  Excited to give this a spin soon!!

63. ""The Book" - Root

I don't what to really say about this album because I've never listened to Root, other than I think they have a super lame name and I've never heard any good black metal from the Czech Republic.  That doesn't mean this isn't a bad album or that there aren't any good bands from there!!  In fact, it's because of this situation that makes me excited to check this band out!!  
Also, fun fact: "root" is Australian slang for "sex"!!

62. "Diadem of 12 Stars" - Wolves in the Throne Room

I've been a fan of Wolves in the Throne room ever since I checked them out after reading an interview with them in Metal Maniacs in like 2006.   What they were talking about at the time was like a breath of fresh Cascadian air for a stagnating black metal scene, ushering in a renaissance of great black metal art that transformed USBM from being the laughingstock of the underground into a powerhouse of subgenre.   By straying away from Satanism (which once upon a time were inexorably linked to the general philosophy of the genre as a whole) and instead injecting mysticism, environmentalism, and psychedelia, WIITR were one of the pioneers of this new school of USBM along with bands such as Nachtmystium, Leviathan, Agalloch, Xasthur, Ludicra, Krallice, Velvet Cacoon, etc.
Anyway, this is a cool album, but I feel like it's on their next album ("Two Hunters") when the band really starts to get good.  This is a great place to start though if you want to get into the band!  One of the greatest USBM bands of all time!!

61. "Black Arts Lead to Everlasting Sins" - Necromantia / Varathron

I haven't heard this split, but can am 99% sure that it's not better than "Diadem of 12 Stars" by Wolves in the Throne Room.  I guess I shouldn't hate, considering that I've never listened to Varathron, but I've always kind of been put off by Necromantia.  I know I need to listen to their classic stuff to really get an idea of their importance in the early Greek BM scene, but "The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven" sucked, and I also think it's goofy that for the longest time their sound has consisted of an 8-string bass, a regular bass, keyboards, drums, and no guitars (!).  I guess it would be cool if they sounded good, but from what I listened to I thought it sounded pretty whack.  Ah well!  I'm sure I'll get around to listening to this soon.