Thursday, December 29, 2011

#15: Loss - Despond

I'm usually a pretty upbeat kind of guy. But I have had my down times. Plenty actually. Despond (Profound Lore) is the soundtrack for down times. It sounds like it's made of pure melancholy. It's incredibly depressing sounding. Loss manage to drag your spirits down without just down tuning to unreasonable levels. Despond is mostly a doom affair, barely moving at all. Just as one who is depressed barely moves through life. Brief flashes of black metal occasionally break through the gloom. They feel like a frustration in not being able to be as sad as you really want to be. Or a lashing out at the world that doesn't understand your sorrow. The voice of this discontent is an other worldly growl. The deepest and most guttural vocalizations I've heard this year. Maybe ever. They sound like a black hole gurgling water. When vocalist/guitarist Mike Meacham isn't imitating and ancient volcano, his clean vocals still evoke a deep sadness. There is almost nothing at all uplifting about this album. If you know someone going through some hard times, give them anything but this. Despond will only serve to deepen their despair. I've never heard a band this good at auralizing emotion.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#16: Disma - Towards the Megalith

I don't usually like to make direct comparisons between bands but in this case the similarity (to me) was so striking I couldn't help it. Disma remind me a lot of Hooded Menace. They both employ a similar guitar tone and uber-evil growls. But while Hooded Menace are a bit more ethereal sounding, Disma are more beastly. I'm going to use a few "wintry" metaphors here that don't necessarily fit with the band but it's cold and snowing outside. Towards The Megalith (Profound Lore) moves with a few different pacings. One is that of a giant Yeti stomping through a mountain town annihilating any and all life. The next is a glacial pace. Like the sap oozing from a lonely and ancient pine. And the third is like an avalanche racing down the mountainside. But take all that and imagine it bathed in a green mist and covered in blood. It's an incredibly sinister sounding album conjured forth from the bowels of hell itself. I could handle more death metal that sounded this dark and foreboding. It darkens the sun. Makes good men evil. Speakers ooze blood and children run screaming. (Not mine. I subject them to brutality from birth.) I've listened to this at least a dozen times in the last few days and the monumental riffs and crushing vocals of ex-Incantation vocalist Craig Pillard stills pulls me uncontrollably Towards the Megalith.

Friday, December 23, 2011

#17: Mastodon - The Hunter

This may be one of the most polarizing metal releases of 2011. Partially because Mastodon can hardly be called metal anymore.The Hunter (Reprise) could be considered progressive hard rock if you really need to stick a label on it. I believe it is the only band on my list on a major label. I also believe it is the most accessible album on this year's list. (#15 probably the least) I probably gave the album more attention than I would have if it wasn't Mastodon. I'm not much for second chances. Despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The album grew on me with each listen. So much so in fact, that I actually went to an actual store and bought and actual physical copy. The deluxe version actually. I will admit that there has been a huge shift in Mastodon's sound since Remission and Leviathan but it's just that. A change. You can't expect a band to sit still forever. The Hunter sees Mastodon move away from the restrictions of a concept album and put together a package of songs that still flow together. The sonics and sense of melody (especially vocal) on Crack the Skye continue and are even expanded on The Hunter. The band may have traded some burliness for beauty but that hasn't lessened the nimble-fingered fretboard fleetness of Troy (I can't hear the bass!), Brent or Bill and Brann still has a staggering fondness for fills. And we must not forget the hooks. There are so many guitar and vocal hooks on the album it could almost be renamed The Fisherman. To fully appreciate The Hunter you have to be able to focus on what is rather than what was. This isn't the Mastodon of 2002. This isn't even the Mastodon of 2006 (Blood Mountain). This is the Mastodon of 2011. As the band continues to evolve there is no telling what the Mastodon of the future might sound like. For now, I'm diggin' what I'm hearin'. "Creature Lives" and all.

#18: Landmine Marathon - Gallows

Last year, Landmine Marathon's Sovereign Descent landed inside the Top 20 on my year end list. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Gallows (Prosthetic) was being released this year. Even better news was that it was good enough to land inside the Top 20 again. Gallows picked up more or less where Sovereign left off but perhaps with a little more urgency. I would imagine that with enough solid material for another album so soon, the band  was bursting at the seams. What spews forth is caustic brew of death metal and grindcore. Gallows blast through its roughly 30 minute running time with suffocating intensity. Breathing room is a rarity. Caustic suffocation and relentless pummelling doesn't sound like much fun but if that's how you think, you've never seen Landmine perform live. Listening to Gallows makes me want bust into a one-man mosh pit. At least I wouldn't have to worry about taking an elbow to the face. Vocalist Grace Perry is as always, at the top of her game and this time around (I noticed anyway) bassist Matt Martinez contributes a little more of his roars to deepen the vocal element. Guitarist/producer Ryan Butler and guitarist Dylan Thomas lay down sick grooves, shred like Slayer, and can weave swirling rhythms around each other. Gallows also marks the transition of drummer Andy York to the studio after joining the band following the recording of Sovereign Descent. To rehash a likely overused pun, he doesn't miss a beat. I always hear people compare Landmine to Bolt Thrower. Until I actually get around to checking BT out, I'll be content Gallows. And maybe Landmine Marathon can even pull a Top 20 trifecta in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

#19: Hail!Hornet - Disperse The Curse

Many of the albums that I have enjoyed most this year are dark moody affairs that unfold over the whole album. And some albums just fucking ROCK. Disperse The Curse (Relapse) fucking rocks. It boasts an all-star lineup of vocalist T-Roy Medlin (Sourvein, Buzzov*en), drummer Erik Larson (The Mighty Could, ex-Alabama Thunderpussy), guitarist Vince Burke (Sourvein, Beaten Back to Pure) and, this is the part where you bow, "Dixie" Dave Collins on bass (Weedeater, Buzzov*en, Bongzilla). How can you go wrong? I annoy people at work when I listen to this on break because I can't stop moving. Feet, hands, head, all moving. I can't help it! The music is just too infectious. Too energetic. It's like a shot in the ass full of rock-out juice. Pack the bong, pass the bottle and let 'er rip! It's inspiring really. In good and bad ways. I haven't had a drop of whiskey in almost 2 years but it makes me want to get some. On the good side, I'm a bass player. And the bass on this album is amazing. It makes my balls tingle. So it inspires me to actually pick up my bass and play. That's something I sorely need to do. Everyone needs more fun in their lives and for a guy like me, listening to Hail!Hornet puts that smile on my face. It makes me want to have a good time. Now if only it could disperse the curse of me not having any TIME to have fun......

#20: False - False

I had mentioned in my Explanatory Blurb that there was an album that I came upon after I had pretty much finalized my list that I could not deny from being included. False (Gilead Media) is that album. I just happened to be browsing Gilead's Bandcamp page and recalled reading about False somewhere when I saw the album listed on the site. Click! The first time I played it was at low volume on my shit ass laptop speakers. And I loved it. The next few times were at much greater volumes on my stereo. I have placed it at the top of my "To Buy" list. Vinyl of course. Now, I have only been listening to Black Metal for maybe 3 years so I am not really one to judge the "kvltness" of an album. More to the point, if I like the album, I don't give a fuck how "troo" it is. But based on what I am hearing, the name of the band could not be more ironic. On its two tracks (both over 12 minutes) False displays many of the aspects I've come to enjoy about Black Metal. Scathing, visceral vocals. Soaring riffs that carry me over and through mountains with their airy quality and/or pummelling destructiveness. Furious drumming with many subtle touches. In this case, the final element of the sound is one that I usually don't have a taste for. Keyboards. However, despite the fact that they remind me of Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir (ugh) by their sound, the keys here are much more tastefully done. Their mix and usage feels more complimentary and mood enhancing rather than the over-the-top and in-your-face of those other bands. They elevate the music and make it sound even more sinister. Much like the towering trees that ring the band's logo on the cover. Visually and audibly, this LP is top notch. It pains me that I haven't bought it yet. Soon enough my suffering will pass.

#21: Maruta - Forward Into Regression

It seems like every two years or so an album will make my year end list and then the band will break up before I even publish it. The last two I can remember were Kalas (Matt Pyke!) and ASRA. This year it's Maruta. The band decided to call it quits this November, just 8 months after releasing the mindfuckingly good Forward Into Regression (Willowtip). FIR is a beautifully brutal blend of head-spinning grind and straight up pits-of-hell death metal. Much like the vocals of Exhumed (low and high), Maruta vocalist Mitchell Luna utilizes the same duality. The difference being, the lows are lower and the highs are screechier. And Luna's transition from one to the other is incredibly jarring. In a good way. That style falls in nicely with the way the album transitions from riff to riff. For the most part it's very abrupt. There aren't many smooth edges (unlike #20). That schizo sound might be what sets it apart in my mind. Although, that's not usually not my preferred style of grindcore. Perhaps what makes Forward Into Regression appeal to me over other seemingly chaotic grind is the riffs themselves. Over the course of its 16 tracks the album bursts with killer riff after killer riff. It's unfortunate that such a promising band is done after only two albums. I guess the best we can hope for now is that the band goes backward into resurrection.

#22: Exhumed - All Guts, No Glory

It's only taken me 20 years to discover Exhumed. But when I first listened to All Guts, No Glory (Relapse) my reaction was "FUCKING RIGHT!!" I was instantly floored. It isn't something totally groundbreaking but what struck me was the "attitude" of it. Energetic, mosh-ready and almost thrashy at times. It's brutal without being I'm-not-having-fun-anymore brutal. The brutality stems more from the "classic death metal" themes of death and gore. That's my definition of Death Metal. Crunchy chuggy guitars, ripping solos, blasting drums and those vocals!! Sometimes Matt Harvey (vocals/guitar) sounds like a grizzly bear, sometimes like a mountain lion (sometimes both). In every case, the animal is pissed and primed to kill. Without a doubt, my favourite track is "Death Knell".  I want to buy a giant bell just so I can sound it. And the riff that closes the track is dirgy gold. I hope now that the band is "back" we don't have to wait another five years for Harvey and (hopefully) the rest of this stellar lineup of bassist Leon Del Muerte (Murder Construct, ex-Intronaut and more), drummer Danny Walker (Murder Construct, Intronaut, ex-Phobia and more), and guitarist Wes Caley to release another necro-tastic album.

Monday, December 19, 2011

#23: Hate Eternal - Phoenix Amongst The Ashes

When I talked about the Origin album I made note of its technicality coupled with its brutality. Phoenix Amongst The Ashes (Metal Blade) takes both those attributes and severely ups the ante. Most notably in the brutality department. Foul beasts of all sorts cower when faced with the unrelenting and merciless might of PATH. I can hardly listen to it without a scowl on my face as the fury of the double-kicks and speed-picking courses through my veins. The mastermind behind this gargantuan endowment upon my bleeding ears is none other than Erik Rutan. Producer, guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire. The living Death Metal Legend himself. His beastly roar could crumble mountains. The sweep picking and other craziness that opens "The Art of Redemption" is otherworldly in its virtuosity. I could believe that there are actually even more notes packed in there but the human brain just isn't fast enough to process them. It's amazing that the rhythm section of bassist JJ Hrubovcak and drummer Jade Simonetto are able to keep up with Rutan's onslaught. Yet they do. The evidence of which is perfectly presented in the title track. This centerpiece of the album earns 2011's nod as Death Metal Track of the Year. I dare you not to scream that chorus. It can't be done. Rise!! And behold the majesty of Hate Eternal.

#24: Burzum - Fallen

Yes, Varg Vikernes may be a despicable human being. But I don't really care about his personal life. I believe every man has the potential for redemption. I'm not making excuses for him but I also believe that much of people's behaviour is the product of an uncontrolled mind. Until that mind is controlled and pure, sentient beings cannot be held ultimately responsible for their mental, verbal or physical actions. (I'm talking time-space-continuum-across-all-universes-ultimate) But no wrong goes unpunished. Karma's a bitch, as they say. For that reason I am able to separate the man from the music. Don't get me wrong. I haven't actually purchased the album and you won't find me wearing a Burzum t-shirt. But I can evaluate Fallen (Byelobog/Candlelight) on its merits as a piece of music without a thought as to who created it. It's not a very powerful album per se, but it was able to capture me in other ways. Much like last year's Belus, I found myself sinking beneath the multiple layers and becoming entranced by the flowing tremolos. The highly repetitive nature of the album was actually quite relaxing. I guess you could say I consider it "chill out music". Whether the lyrics are being softly sung or a spitting rasp, it's all in Norwegian so I haven't a clue what he's singing about. Nor have I bothered to find out. I just take it as another instrument. Think of me what you will for promoting Burzum with my words if not my wallet, but remember I am talking about Fallen. This is Count Grishnackh and Burzum, not Varg when it comes right down to it. The man may make the music, but the music be not the man.

Treasures of 2011 Not Yet Unearthed

Due to a number of circumstances, I haven't been able to listen to all the music I would like have heard in 2011. It boils down to accessibility and time. Basically, I'm a broke father of 3 who works over 50 hours a week at a factory and lives over 100km round-trip from the nearest record store that MIGHT carry what I want. Yes, yes. The internet. I already said I was broke. I buy what I can. And there's a lot of stuff that is hard to dig up if you don't want to pay for it. I recently got Spotify so between that and Bandcamp, 2012 should be much easier. In the meantime, time is my biggest adversary.
Anyway, here's a list of albums/artists from 2011 which have this far evaded my ears. Albums that I honestly think I will enjoy, not just albums I feel some obligation to hear just for the sake of "journalistic integrity".  If any of you want to help me out with any of these (promos, links, exclusive streaming) feel free to contact me. I believe the info is at the right. I think. I can't check. I'm emailing this in from work and can't surf the web. Only email. It's the only time I get!
 If I can find them, I'll try to find time to listen to:
Deafheaven - Roads to Judah (got it, just no time yet)
Mournful Congregation - The Book of Kings (time)
All Pigs Must Die - God Is War (on Spotify)
Serpentcult - Raised By Wolves (Weight of Light was FUCKING AMAZING)
Electro Quarterstaff - Aykroyd (on Spotify)
Antidiluvian - Through the Cervix of Hawwah
Ehnahre - Taming The Cannibals
Giant Squid - Cenotes
Battlefields - Agassiz
Thou - The Archer and the Owl
Mick Barr - Coiled Malescence (I didn't hear it near enough times before the stream as disabled.)
Moab - Ab Ovo
Vallenfyre - A Fragile King
Just to name a few.

#25: Crowbar - Sever The Wicked Hand

In the interest of expediency (and laziness) I'm simply going to provide the link to the review of Sever The Wicked Hand (E1 Entertainment) I wrote earlier this year. It accurately describes how I feel about the album and I don't feel the need to try and recreate that.
Here it is: Crowbar - Sever The Wicked Hand

#26: Morne - Asylum

I've seen Shutter Island. An asylum no place I want to go. But not all asylums are created equal. Be it a  physical place or merely a state of mind. Morne's Asylum (Profound Lore) puts me in a mental state I am more than happy to visit. It's not necessarily a happy place though. It's not an album to make you smile. There is almost nothing uplifting about it. Opener "Asylum" segues through over 17 minutes of emotional turmoil. It sounds like the stages of mourning. But not necessarily in the usual order. I can hear sadness. I can hear denial. I can hear anger and a thirst for revenge. I can hear acceptance. Speaking of thirst, the vocals of singer/guitarist Milosz Gassan have a very dry quality to them. Like a thirsty man begging for water. (Or a broken man begging for mercy) The keyboards/piano on the track only add to the sense of foreboding and despair. The themes brought forth on the title track are consistently carried throughout the album. It's easy to get lost in the tides of sound from the densely thick and fuzzed out tones and forget that there is anything beyond heartache and loneliness. Yet through it all I can still hear and undercurrent of fight, not flight. If the world has you seeking Asylum, Morne's a good place to start.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

#27: Book of Black Earth - The Cold Testament

This is another one of my favourite driving albums. The intensity and aggression of The Cold Testament (Prosthetic) makes it near impossible not to put the hammer down and barrel down the highway. Roaring along with the hardcore bellow of vocalist/guitarist TJ Cowgill on opener "Weight of the World" has kept me awake on the drive home after a night shift on many occasions. To be honest, any track on the album is worth shredding some vocal chords to. The Swedish death metal influence combined with the punch of grind and hardcore fuels an inner fire. Unleashing that inner fire through screaming with The Cold Testament is an incredibly effective stress reliever. Although few could match the prowess of Cowgill. How can you not be caught up in the anthem chorus of "Road Dogs From Hell"? "We are the road dogs from hell (X2)/Shit out of luck/Don't give a fuck/This is the life we chose/We are the road dogs from hell!" If that isn't tailor made to get a packed club screaming in unison I don't know what is. These guys would absolutely tear the roof off of any venue they play. And from the sounds of it, they play a lot of venues. Perhaps my favourite track on the album is closer "I See Demons". It's a somewhat creepy tome about (what I assume is) a mortician. "Taking possession of human remains/Everywhere I go, it's always the same/When I close my eyes, I can still see their faces....I see demons inside my mind" I'll just leave you with that. Kay? Sleep tight.

#28: Deicide - To Hell With God

My wife texts me from a record store, "At HMV. want n e thing?" Ya, the new Crowbar. "nope. don't have it" Ok, then. Deicide - To Hell With God. "Nice title.(sarcastically)  ok. got it." Money.Well.Spent. This very well might win this year's award for Most Played. It was the only CD in my car for months. I got everywhere faster because of that. Or at least it felt that way. To Hell With God (Century Media) is just so fast! It's an unrelenting blur of fretboard nimbleness locked down by sickening death metal speed-chugging. All dripping with Glen Benton's glorious blasphemy. I am surprised that this album hasn't gotten as much praise as I heap on it. But with a history like Deicide's, it's almost impossible to live up to the expectations. This thing is littered with solos. Jack Owen and Ralph Santolla don't get enough credit. Benton's inverted cross scar might be fading but it seems his distaste for Christianity is still strong. I don't want to put words in his mouth, but if he's anything like me, it's more of a problem with the institution itself as it is with (the majority of) Christians themselves. (They call themselves sheep. I don't even have to. Innocent and ignorant.) The lyrics are one of the aspects that draws me to Deicide most. It's anti-Christian more than it is actively Satanic. With smart arguments too. So as long as Deicide keeps releasing music that rips as much as To Hell With God and Benton continues to spit in the face of God, you'll find me flying down the road shaking my fists right along with him.

#29: KEN Mode - Venerable

Winnipeg's KEN Mode crack the top 30 as the second Canadian entry on my list. As much as I like the album, I find it very hard to describe Venerable (Profound Lore (That's 5 Profound Lore releases on the list so far if you're counting along at home.)) The trio has crafted a dynamic record that goes beyond their normal designation as a noise-rock band. I don't like that "noise" tag at all really. At least on Venerable. To me, "noise" implies some arty lack of coherence. That's not the case here. Yes, the album swings from quiet, whispered moments to soul-crushing heaviness. Sometimes rather abruptly. But it makes sense. There are riffs. Great riffs. Your head may spin but for good reason. A spinning because the way the textures weave themselves into the whole is worth of veneration. Not a spinning in frustration of trying to wrap your head around it. I was also impressed with the balance between the four ingredients in this tasty dish. Of the vocals, guitar, bass and drums, no one flavour dominates the taste of the album. It's been a good year for the 'Peg. First Venerable, then the return of the Jets. I've seen the Jets play (the old Jets) but I've yet to experience KEN Mode live. That's something I hope gets rectified in 2012. (ie. Come play Kingston, ON)

#30: Machine Head - Unto The Locust

I fell into the trap. I'd read some less than positive things about Unto The Locust (Roadrunner) before I actually heard it. So I didn't listen with an open mind. I was looking for flaws. I found some and they overshadowed the album in my mind for a while. When it came time to make my AOTY list I knew it was good enough to be honoured but I wasn't sure where to put it. I knew it wouldn't be as high as The Blackening (#5 that year I think) but I had to listen to it some more before making that decision. I listened to it eight or more times over the course of a couple days. In doing so, I found myself enjoying the album more and more each time. By the end I was singing along to the anthemic choruses, abusing the steering wheel (I do that a lot), and just generally feeding off the energy being thrown off by Rob Flynn and co. I found myself reveling in the immensity and scope, anticipating the solos and slowly forgetting any of the negative stuff I had read. Unto The Locust sounds undoubtedly like Machine Head. Musically, MH do have a sound all their own. They are easy to recognize. But what really typifies Machine Head and this album is Flynn's vocals. His distinct gravel-throated battlecry is a rallying point for the album. It sounds human. That humanity is what draws the listener in and makes you feel like you can relate to it. It works to such great effect that despite my lack of fondness for Flynn's "singing" parts, (ex. "Darkness Within") I found myself singing right along with him. However, I have to apply some demerit points due to certain vocals parts. The "sangre sani" part of "I Am Hell (Sonata in C#) would have served better as its own track so I could just skip over it and the need for the children's "choir" in "Who We Are" is lost on me. The rest of the track is fine though. Also, with regards to the bonus tracks, I just skipped them almost every time. I've never been a Judas Priest fan ("The Sentinel"), MH covering Rush just seems odd to me, ("Witch Hunt") and the acoustic version of "Darkness Within" doesn't have any solos!  But really, those are minor inconveniences on an otherwise stellar release. As a 7 track album it's pretty kick ass. Kick ass enough that I put it on my Christmas list. Not just good enough that I would buy it good, but good enough for a gift good.

#31: Amon Amarth - Surtur Rising

In 2008, I named Twilight of the Thunder God Album Of The Year. So naturally I had high hopes for this year's Surtur Rising (Metal Blade).  Initially, my hopes were dashed upon the stones of a cold, Scandinavian shore. There was nothing that stood out to me. I wasn't hearing an album-to-album progression. I feared the longships were moored in port, never to sail again. But I raised my banners and pressed on. What I discovered was an album that conquered and pillaged as savagely as its predecessor.  If a battle plan works, why change it? Through ten tracks, the Swedes continue to incite a blood lust with their powerful and melodic riffs. They are like virus that starts in the brain but soon infects the whole body. It makes a craven feel like a hero. An urge to don a longsword and march into battle rises as Johan Hegg growls the tales from Viking days of yore. They may not be conquering new lands but Amon Amarth holds firm dominion over the territory they rule. Any and all challengers to the crown are easily slain by their might. Crack open a cask of mead and raise your drinking horns! Rejoice in Surtur Rising!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

#32: Weekend Nachos - Worthless

I was familiar with the name Weekend Nachos but not familiar with the actual music. I may have shied away from previous works partially due to the band name. I guess with a name like Weekend Nachos I just thought they were some party band. I'm not saying I'm above party bands but I just didn't feel and urge to check them out. This year however, some unseen force put Worthless (Relapse) on my iPod (read: I can't remember why I decided to download it.). Well smack my ass and call me Sally! (That's the name of a pretty good hot sauce, btw.) Apparently Weekend Nachos is as much of a misleading band name as Worthless is a misnomer for the album! It is anything but worthless!  It's the perfect example of how fluid this list actually is. On any given day, this album could crack my top 10. It's a vicious and burly hardcore album with just enough grind sensibility to trip you up. It's not wildly unfocused but it's not predictable either. Who would predict the 2+ minutes of feedback that finishes "The Meeting" and moves into "Worthless" right in the middle of the album? It's just feedback but I love it!  After some more swirling-pit inducing savagery, the album closes with a track called "Future". A 6 minute slab of some of the most monolithic doom you will hear this year. Why save it for the weekend? These nachos are worth it all fucking week.

#33: Wolvhammer - The Obsidian Plains

Releasing an album in late October doesn't leave much time for scribes such as myself to digest it before the baying for year end lists begins. Luckily, The Obsidian Plains (Profound Lore) from Minnesota's Wolvhammer didn't take long to make an impression. Wolvhammer blends the cold and bleak aura of black metal with an almost catchy death'n'roll rumble. I can hear some of what may be a sludge influence as well but I can't call it anything but Black Metal. Especially considering the vibe that the demon-from-hell-come-to-kill-you-all screams of vocalist Adam Clemans. Given the black metal blasts and the infectious riffing I'm not surprised I love this album as much as I do. What does surprise me however, is the fact that it features former members of Nachtmystium and Across Tundras. (Jeff Wilson and Heath Rave, respectively) Both bands that I have never really enjoyed. Maybe that's why the are FORMER members. They wanted to make better music. Well, mission accomplished. The Obsidian Plains is the sort of blazing awesomeness you need to get you through a cold Minnesotan (or in my case, Canadian) winter. Bring on the bleak.

#34: Origin - Entity

Clocking in around 37 minutes, Entity (Nuclear Blast) delivers a technical death metal punch in the gut as opposed the Chinese water torture that I find much TDM to be. Where the gut-punch does the damage quickly but leaves a lasting impression, water torture is painful in its tedium and leaves you with nothing. A slow death by boredom. Usually in these blurbs I try to explain why I like an album. In this case, it might be easier for someone to explain to me why I like it. I can't seem to puzzle out why I like Origin but I have no patience for bands like The Faceless, Obscura, TesseracT, Periphery, Born of Osiris, and their ilk. Perhaps the answer is a puzzle. On Entity, Origin is able to take the pieces of technicality, brutality, and musical awareness and put them together in such a way that they fit and create something pleasing. But still wicked brutal. And in some of those other bands, the pieces don't fit together properly. Or are missing altogether. They remind me of the character of "Stewart" on Mad TV. He says, "Look what I can do!" and just flails around and impresses no one but himself. Origin weaves their unfuckwithable musical ability into the fabric of the songs. It's there. It's undeniable. But it's the means to the end, not the end itself. I am totally appreciative of technical prowess, but I love brutal SONGS. Thankfully, Entity wins by TKO.

#35: A Storm of Light - As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade

That album title sure is a mouthful isn't it? Sounds pretty deep doesn't it? Well so does the record. ATVODBUOSMF (Profound Lore) is a journey that I can't think about without envisioning thick fog. Perhaps the fog represents the ether from which the rich tones seemingly flow. The strained, emotive quality of Josh Graham's vocals make the album sound very personal. This is one of those albums where I really would have benefited from a lyric sheet. Despite the clean, completely decipherable lyrics, I have the inability to process and understand the meaning of lyrics unless I read them. Even though, as of yet, I have very little idea of what I am supposed to get from the album, I do know how the album feels. It feels like struggle. It feels somewhat uncomfortable. It feels of loss and desperation. There is a fluidity that moves through the record in peaks and valleys. One of the aspects that appeals to me about ASOL is how at times it reminds me of the short-lived band, The Sabians (feat. Justin Marler and Chris Hakius of Sleep). It's not so much that the bands sound alike as much as they remind me of each other. Certain guitar parts are very similar and the vocals have the same emotional quality. However, ASOL paints a soundscape whereas The Sabians were more straightforward. ATVODBUOSMF is a densely rich and dark album. Monstrously heavy without the monster vocals. It's the vocals that make me kick myself. Kick myself for not doing what I needed to do to get my hands on some lyrics. Because as deep as the album sounds, I bet the lyrics are even deeper.

Friday, December 16, 2011

#36: Warbringer - Worlds Torn Asunder

I was a little late to the metal party. I didn't start listening to metal in earnest til the mid-late 90's. Therefore, I missed most of the original thrash movement. (Aside from The Big 4) So a few years ago when this new generation of thrash emerged, I was able to grab on without much of a reference point. Bands like Early Man, Blood Tsunami, Toxic Holocaust, Evile, Havok and Warbringer have captured me as I imagine Testament, Exodus, etc would have had I been exposed to them back in the 80's. So it should come as no surprise that Worlds Torn Asunder (Century Media) is one of my favourite thrash releases of 2011. It offers up everything I love about thrash. It's fast. It's precise. It's catchy. The energy level and aggression really gets the blood pumping. When I listen to Warbringer, my steering wheel takes a beating, dinner takes longer to prepare (island moshing and air guitar again!) and my (infrequent) workouts get more intense. Basically, it takes regular things and makes them better. That's awesome! Because for me, listening to thrash is supposed to be fun. Worlds Torn Asunder may not open new dimensions but the worlds it tears apart are those of classic Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax. A Slayer moon might get in the way and in the process an Exodus comet gets captured. Warbringer takes that riffage, those phrasings, the solos, the tones, attitude and the drive of those bands and creates their own world. A world of blistering, hard driving, excellently executed thrash topped by what for me, is the dealmaker. John Kevill's vocals. One of the best vocalists of the new young thrash bands. I'll tell you, I'm a pacifist, but Worlds Torn Asunder is a war I'd be happy to bring.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#37: Fuck The Facts - Die Miserable

Ottawa's Fuck The Facts are the first Canadian band to land on this year's list with their latest, Die Miserable (Relapse). Some bands have a live show that tends to be more intense than their recorded material. Not so in this case. I saw FTF play a living room show a few years ago (Yes, the same venue as the Toxic Holocaust show) and "intense" isn't an adequate word for describing the performance and atmosphere. It was almost frightening. On Die Miserable, the band manages to channel that intensity into album form. Describing the album isn't as easy as calling it grindcore, as FTF are generally categorized. It goes beyond anything that simple and straightforward. The seemingly erratic stops and starts and shifts fall together perfectly. The vision necessary to conceptualize the album and the ability to pull it off is a true testament to the talent found in Fuck The Facts. There is no room for weakness. It is also the most consistently heavy FTF album I've heard. Last year, I added a Standout Track to each of my blurbs for AOTY. I decided to forgo that this year mainly because I am an "album guy". But on Die Miserable, "Census Blank" stood out to me as the centrepiece of my listening experience of the album. With just over two minutes left in the track (It's over 7 minutes long. That's not grindcore length!) this monumental riff kicks in with another (tapped?) guitar part flickering around it. It's like Godzilla stomping through the city with a dozen mini-Mothras flapping around his head. I have to stop whatever I am doing and listen. I can't concentrate on anything else til the song is over. Those two minutes alone are enough to land the album on this list.
Fuck The Facts return to Kingston in late January. I can feel the intensity across space-time already.

#38: Vreid - V

Not that I would consider myself a Black Metal rookie, but I will admit my fluency with the nomenclature of the genre is somewhat lacking. Hopefully I know enough that I can describe the fifth album from Norway's Vreid, simply titled V (Indie Recordings). I can't recall exactly how I stumbled upon V but since its February release it has been a near constant on my playlist. I think what keeps drawing me back to it is the feeling of motion it evokes. That feeling of soaring over desolate snow covered mountains appeals to me. The album is dominated by blasting rhythms and thunderous double-bass drumming that gallops along under some sweet tremolo picking. But it's not all full-on fury. The maelstrom is broken up in places by airy and sometimes almost folk-like passages. It brings to mind a vision of a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds to illuminate a bare spot untouched by the battle that rages all around it. The same contrast is heard in the vocals. The malicious, scathing yet decipherable screams take leave where appropriate for a talented clean voice. It's the clean singing that contributes to that folk feeling at times.  High quality, balanced production, tasteful and not overbearing atmospheric keyboards, and even some occasional acoustic guitar rounds out a sound that has inspired me to look deeper in to the history of Norwegian Black Metal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

#39: Cannabis Corpse - Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise

Cannabis Corpse's Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise (Tankcrimes) is the first album on the list that I can imagine getting flack about. I can understand that people may not think it belongs on a Best Of list because it's not serious enough. But it is seriously fun. If you recall my Explanatory Blurb, one of my criteria was how often did I listen to it? In this case, that was lots. It's brutal death metal with just enough technicality to make things interesting and to assure you they aren't just dunderheads making noise. I will admit that their use of marijuana related puns based on classic death metal song titles may have had some effect on my decision to include the album though. But that's more of an attention grabber than anything as the music itself more than stands on its own. It's a bowl packed with sticky riffs and growls and screams that leave me green with envy. Cannabis Corpse may not rival Cannibal Corpse, but really they aren't that different. In the real world, I prefer cannabis to cannibals anyway. At the end of the day, did I mosh around the island in my kitchen? Yes. Was I prone to fits of uncontrollable air guitar? Yes. Did I thrust my hands to the sky and scream? Yes. Sounds like a winner to me! Now where's my bong?

#40: Grayceon - All We Destroy

Two albums with female vocalists in a row! Awesome! And they won't be the
last either. It's also the second album on the list released by Profound
Lore Records. The March release date of *All We Destroy* has given me
plenty of time to absorb it. And I have absorbed it plenty of times. What
makes Grayceon so attractive is vocalist Jackie Perez Gratz. Not only is
her beautiful/terrifying voice a thing of wonder but she also plays cello!
The unorthodox trio is rounded out by guitarist/vocalist Max Doyle and
drummer Zack Farwell. The cello creates a smoothness in the music that even
a fretless bass couldn't achieve. It also helps to create the classical
feel of the album. The way the cello lifts the music, it makes it sound
like it is floating. This in turn makes me view the songs and parts of
songs as movements within the album as a whole. It's an experience I never
expected to have this year. It's also an album of contrasts. From Gratz's
clean/harsh vocals to the aggressive/pretty-calm movements to the fact the
there is a cello in a metal band (that's not Apocalyptica). As I said in my
Intro, FEEL is very important to me. The fluidity and airiness of *All We
Destroy* makes me feel good and the more aggressive passages make me feel
powerful. Life is about balance and for all they've destroyed, Grayceon has
created an album equally as enjoyable.

#41: Dark Castle - Surrender To All Life Beyond Form

The Floridian duo of Stevie Floyd and Rob Shaffer have unleashed a doom metal beast of an album. Surrender To All Life Beyond Form (Profound Lore) is a richly atmospheric album I could scarcely believe was the work of just two people. Dark electronics, keyboards and piano join forces with the crunchy guitars to drag the listener down to the dungeons. It's a miserable and anguished sounding album. The male and female, harsh and clean vocals do nothing to change the mood to uplifting. In fact, Floyd's cries embody the desperation of the convicted locked in a black cell. Without a lyric sheet I can't tell much about the lyrical content but my best guess would be that it is as deep and dark as the mood everything else evokes. While I've heard Dark Castle described most as a doom band, STALBF is more than just that. Sludge and black metal rear their ugly heads and the electronics add some flavour atypical of most of the doom I listen to. Closing track "Learning To Unlearn"  could be the doomiest track on the album. It's molasses thick and sounds like it's threatening to stop altogether. But it trudges along as if it's resigned to surrender to the fate of slowly drowning in quicksand. Go ahead, surrender yourself.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Top 40 Albums of 2011 "Explanatory Blurb"

Before I begin the countdown of my favourite albums of 2011, I have some 'splainin' to do. First of all, this isn't so much a Best Of list as it is a My Favourite list. No one pays me to do this blog so I feel no obligation to be unbiased. I guarantee there will be albums on this list that people will think shouldn't belong there. But that's too bad. I base this list more or less on three criteria. How much did I/do I want to listen to it? How difficult was it to take it off repeat and listen to something else? How did it make me FEEL? Each and every one of the albums on this list stirred something within me. Some made me mosh around the island in the kitchen or air guitar uncontrollably. . Some I turned to when I was feeling a certain way. Some made me thrust my hands to the sky and scream. The reasons may be different but they all affected me enough that I feel they need to be recognized for their achievements. I'll do my best to explain why as I count down My Favourite 41 Albums of 2011.
Yes, 41 is a strange number of albums. However, because I can never stop listening to new music, I stumbled upon an album that blew me away to enough of a degree that I couldn't help but include it. I had already committed to which albums would be included (I still don't have the order nailed down) so I just bumped it to 41. And no one can stop me!!! Muwahahaha! In an effort to prevent further delays and mistakes due to "freshness" (Re: Trivium - 2005), I won't be listening to anything new for a couple weeks at least. I will be writing a small piece about albums that I listened to too late or haven't had the pleasure of hearing yet. Albums that either have been critically praised or that I would have a high likelihood of enjoying and have thus far escaped my ears. (Deafheaven for instance)
Also of note. There were two albums released this year by artists that my brain is incapable of evaluating without bias. At some point along the way I will feature those releases without a formal ranking. I may even, if I get the time, make a list of albums that either sucked outright or just didn't do anything for me despite how others felt.
Finally, bear in mind that most of these ranks are quite fluid. That really goes without saying but I'm saying it anyway. And the majority of the time, I'm going without a lyric sheet. So if there is some crazy profound revelation buried in there somewhere, I probably didn't catch it.
Enjoy and PLEASE ARGUE with me! (But I'll still be right.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comeback Album of the Year: Sepultura - Kairos

I don't think anyone can honestly contend that Sepultura without Max Cavalera is better than Sepultura with Max Cavalera. (Especially me, an unashamed Max-ophile.The Soulfly "Wings" logo was my first ever tattoo.) But I don't think Derrick Green-led Sepultura gets enough credit. He has been in the band longer than Max was after all. Needless to say, after 3 lackluster albums (Roorback, Dante XXI and (groan) A-Lex), the band's latest, Kairos (Nuclear Blast) raises the band back up to a certain level of respectability. Unfortunately the band's reputation has been tarnished enough at this point that they are no longer given a fair shot. Their second album to feature no Cavaleras sees them ditching the constraints of a concept album for something a little more straightforward. They've put together an album of solid, fairly catchy (groove) metal. Groove seems to be a dirty word anymore but, seriously, fuck, when did an album's ability to induce head-nodding and toe-tapping become a reason for derision? (Bear in mind, I have no tolerance for pointless guitar wankery, Sumerian sucks, and Meshuggah can kiss my ass.) After the cringe-worthy A-Lex, I'm really glad to see that Kisser and Paulo Jr. were able to use their undeniable musicianship and right the ship, as it were. The album is not without its faults, however. The Ministry cover, ("Just One Fix") while well done, was misplaced being in the middle of the album. It would have worked much better placed at the end. Similarly industrial influenced track, "Structure Violence (Azzes)" seems unnecessary to me. Without those two tracks the album could have been more concise and impactful. From what I hear, Sepultura covered Prodigy's "Firestarter" as a bonus track on the deluxe version. It wasn't included on the version I heard and I have been to absent-minded to find it anywhere. It could be interesting though.
I based this Comeback Album Award not on a return from tragedy, or near tragedy (the next Early Graves and Behemoth albums, respectively), or on a return from a long hiatus (Crowbar) but on producing an album that exceeded my expectations after the previous album's disappointment.  That's why I consider Kairos 2011's Comeback Album of the Year.
Fun Fact: I believe a (surprisingly glowing) review of the first two tracks released from A-Lex was the first ever Kingdom of Noise post.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Close But No Cigar Part 4: Gridlink - Orphan

This is probably the hardest cut to my Top 40 Albums of 2011 list I've had to make thus far. The latest brainchild of masterminds Jon Chang and Takafumi Matsubara is 12 minutes of furious and savage ear-fuckery. Orphan (Hydra Head) is one of those albums you just have to put on when you are seething angry. Let the viciousness of it all flow through you as you attempt to "sing" along. I promise you will feel better afterwards. I took an anger management course once. One exercise we had to do was to bring in a song that characterized "who you are". I brought in a Gridlink song. You should have seen the looks on their faces! The look of incredulity on most of their faces was priceless. More than worth the time I wasted in the class. One guy said to me, "That's not music. There are two types of music. Country and Western." You can see what I was dealing with here. I digress. The counselor asked me why I felt that song embodied me. I told her that was what it was like in my head. (Hence anger management class) Furious. Mile-a-minute. Suffocating. Disjointed. Edge of collapse. Nothing nice to say, or at least, no nice what to say it. Full-on attack mode. Harmony? FUCK.THAT. I'm much better now, but I still very much enjoy the blitzing craziness Gridlink offers up on Orphan. I'm serious. If you are feeling stressed, throw this on, rage the fuck out for 12 minutes, and it'll be good times to follow.  If you are wondering why the album didn't make my Top 40 after such a ringing endorsement, it's basically a technicality. It's too short. I want MORE! It doesn't even get me all the way home from work. It helps me stay awake after a night shift. Those last 3-4 minutes when it's over are such a bummer. A longer album would vault it way up the list.


Close But No Cigar Part 3: Rotten Sound - Cursed

Round 3 of my Top 40 cuts finds Finnish grindsters Rotten Sound on the outside looking in. Their latest release, Cursed, (Relapse) is a 28 minute pummelling that deserves to make the Top 40. Unfortunately, 40 other bands delivered the goods as well. I've seen Rotten Sound referred to most often as a grind band but I think of them more as a Swedish (in this case Finnish) death metal band with hardcore sensibilities and on Cursed, a touch of Black Metal fervor. I first heard Rotten Sound on 2008's Cycles and my wife asked me, "What IS that?" (baffled, not intrigued) To which I responded with Rotten Sound. Of course. Her reply was "Yes it is. Rotten sounding." Nothing has really changed since then. Cursed sounds just as filthy, nasty and well, rotten as I would have expected. It barrels and stomps its way through 16 tracks relentlessly. It's a barn burner for sure. Trouble is, (and again I am trying to be nit-picky) it can be a little one-dimensional. But daddy loves that Swe-death tone! And really, coming in at just under 28 minutes, it is kind of impossible for the album to overstay its welcome. The March release date was both a blessing and a curse (hehe). It gave me lots of time to listen to it but with so many releases coming after it, despite it staying on my iPod all year, it kind of got lost in the shuffle until this past week. And even with bonus points for being vegetarian/vegan, that shuffling left Cursed closer to the bottom of the deck.
(Wow. That metaphor worked perfectly. I have 52 albums on my iPod right now.)