Thursday, January 19, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Albums Released in 2015:

I don't always listen to albums when they're released. It's not that I don't get around to it - it's just that most times a flavor is best savored for a certain time of the year. Moons align, winds change, seasons whither - everything has it's soundtrack. In turn, sometimes that leaves a two year window for which to satisfy my sonic palette, especially when a record is released just after it's most appropriately designated epoch. So consider this a list in arrears. These are my favorite ten albums that were released in 2015:

10. An Autumn For Crippled Children - The Long Goodbye

An Autumn For Crippled Children has a wickedly high treble sound that takes some getting used to, even for a genre considered Post Black Metal…?  The production buries the drums, vocals and bass in the mix, pushing lighter-than-air guitars and atmospheric keyboard melodies up front to fight for the listener's ear. It skews the kvlt bullshit that likes to try to weigh it’s artists down and instead follows the path becoming more traveled by injecting inspirited melodies within it’s traditionally cold, bleak sonics. Confine it all wisely into shorter more average length songs and you’ve got a unique concoction that's more pleasant than it is pummeling - sharing table space with similar but not the same acts like Botanist's latest effort VI, and to a more produced degree even Deafheaven.

9. Gnaw Their Tongues - Abyss Of Longing Throats

In the broad assemblage of music from which I know of, there is no other band/composer that punctuates it’s sound with such overwhelmingly vile and distressing atmosphere than Gnaw Their Tongues, and it is in this extreme that "they" continue to lure my interest. Abyss of Longing Throats is the most dynamic of the last couple of releases (Le arrive' de la erne mort triomphante, All The Dread Magnificence of Perversity ), yet remains as merciless, ominous, terrifying and claustrophobic as anything that came before it. The genius of it goes beyond the fascinatingly ghastly cacophony of sounds that swirl about in magnanimously lugubrious and chaotic layers, pushing the tracks along to actually create a poignant structure that becomes the sum of it’s parts. It is more the fact that Abyss of Longing Throats seamlessly combines so many extreme genres into it’s melting pot without coming across as pretentious or asking to be more than what it is, which in truth is nothing more than a labor of love (and wanting the listener to be forever scarred by what they hear). If you go into it as a black metal album, then that is what you get. If you go into it as an industrial album, that is what you get. If you think it is either the genre of noise or simply noise itself, that’s what you get. But make no mistake, it will conjure the kind of fear and wonder that leads people to want to solve the puzzle box to see what’s on the other side if you let it. Below is the most accessible track on the record. And with so many people praising Leviathan’s Scar Sighted as one of the best records to capture all the aforementioned qualities above in 2015, let me just say – with all due respect – Abyss of Longing Throats makes it sound like a happy little Sunday drive to Dairy Queen and nothing more. * Side note: I have yet to listen to the Dragged Into Sunlight/Gnaw Their Tongues split also released this year.

8. Marriages - Salome

Imaginatively sharp, reverb drenched guitar riffs weave in and out of tribal alt-rhythms and very sparse dream-pop like keyboards, creating a surprisingly dark musical atmosphere for to which vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle sings devotedly over. The whole thing teeters on the edge of toying heavily with shoegaze notions but never comes close to committing, retaining a very organic and indie rock feel for what it is. Upon first and repeated listens my brain went right to not being able to shake how much they seemed to sound like A Perfect Circle should Maynard James be replaced with, um, er – Emma Ruth Rundle, and if that’s the void it wants to fill in my niche’ then have at it. Each song on Salome, though retaining a constant sonic calling card of sound throughout, still stands out on it’s own – making the record feel diverse yet comfortable in it’s palette, while retaining a singular dark, almost bleak beauty throughout. Top notch stuff here.

7. Napalm Death - Apex Predator

Considering their style in the grand scheme of anything played with distortion, ND still eviscerate without an agenda. Apex Predator is yet another evolutionary step towards an unknown destination within the band's impressive catalogue; how the fuck do you manage to remain so vital, invigorated, and fresh sounding in such an infested space? Especially when one of the biggest adversaries to overcome is your own discography? Dissonant chords, goth-like reverberating vocals, industrial percussion, all added to a familiar formula of rabid barking over blurring riffs that toy with comprehensive song structures and - hooks! I can always argue that 90% of every song on every album in the second half of this band's career has parts that could be cut out to bring each piece's over all running time to a more handicapping punch to the gut; but given that that glaring issue is easily ignored because of the quality of the song itself speaks volumes to this band's talent. The fact that Apex Predator arguably out does every album that's outdone every album they've done before it in the last 20 years is impressive and awesome. And that last riff...that closing stomp of 'Copulating Snakes'...c'mon.

6. Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss

I'm sorry to say that I ignored Chelsea Wolfe for far too long despite the universe continuously offering up roads to her wonderful catalogue which I still have yet to fully explore. It wasn't on purpose you see, it was simply because my feeble little kidney bean of a brain saw the name Chelsea Wolfe and immediately replaced it with the mediocre paint-by-number deathcore sheep show Chelsea Grin. And while I think she shines brightest - or maybe I should say rots grimmest - through more stripped down and lo-fi filters, Abyss offers up a very clean and beautiful albeit bleak (though juxtaposingly layered) and haunting serving of songs that flutter with ghostly despair and melancholia - all the while presenting the listener with the swollen artery that throbs throughout, begging to be punctured.  While the over-all volume seems to have been turned up to 11, it accentuates both the more powerful passages with a rattling distortion as well as the quieter, withdrawn moments by countering that overwhelming-ness like a reprieve from an all-encompassing panic attack. The subtle industrial under-tones that lurked beneath a more organic sound on albums like Apokolypsis and The Grime and The Glow are displayed here way more front and center, sometimes so much so that it feels like blatant Trent Reznor worship in spots - however Wolfe's reverb soaked haunting trademark croon keeps it in her niche', and the low rumble and polished grit of it all remains constant and slow enough to make the listener feel all that further away from the sun, unlike the illusionary more up-tempo pace of this album's predecessor Love Is Pain.

5. Deafheaven - New Bermuda

Deafheaven could have taken the easy route and made the same album twice in a row, 2013's Sunbather was an amazing piece of work, inveigling fascinated ears outside of more extreme genres that may not normally have given a record like that a chance. It won over doubters, critics, and turned away just as many more familiar with the Black Metal genus and it's kin with it's against the grain experimentation in sound and imagery. New Bermuda is a darker album in both of those qualities. The heavier parts are heavier, the dreamier parts are dreamier, and the parts where they combine the two into a Black-Gaze cyclone of majestic desperation and triumph are fewer and more far between - a wickedly bold move for a band whose very moment in the lime light was owed to such genre bending alchemy. Never-the-less, the songwriting on New Bermuda is better than the device, thusly moving this band's sound boldly forward in an almost more traditional direction, which as odd as it sounds works as a fitting next chapter in a very impressive ongoing discography. It's always nice to see a band get heavier in their delivery as their success grows.

4. Myrkur - M

Man oh man - Deafheaven and Myrkur on my end of year list? Perhaps I am nothing more than a Black Metal hipster. In a ludicrously elitist, territorial, and close-minded genre rises this wonderful one-member (for the most part) martyr, merging essences of traditional multi-instrumental folk, lo-fi tremolo-distorted black metal, and somber more classical-leaning balladry to create a brief but effective opus best indulged in the dark final quarter of the year. Mending these distant familial genres, is the native Scandanavian songwriter/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Amalie Bruun, whose serene and angelic voice - when not the centerpiece of the melody itself- soars through rustic, natural folk instrumentation and stretches of jaggedly dark distorted swirls of cold guitars before occasionally mutating itself into the shrill reverb-laden shriek of traditional Black Metal vocals, it all too often casts that image of an angel released from the Ark of the Covenant in that moment it's visage demonically contorts and the face melting that follows. The melodies within are contemplative and beautiful, the patches of sharp, blackened pummeling are malevolent, the juxtaposition is transcending, and demanding of an open-minded, dare I say progressive listener.

3. Boduf Songs - Stench Of Exist

Through the course of six albums and a large handful of splits and 7" limited releases, Matt Sweet - the singer, songwriter, and sole member of Boduf Songs - has gradually progressed his creative child so piecemeal that the change is damn near imperceptible from album to album, and yet from first to last the music feels barely related. Slowly infusing longer and longer passages of ambient drone, full-band dynamics like live drums and actual electronic guitars, as well as the imbue of other heterogeneous instrumentation, Boduf Songs' latest album Stench Of Exist runs the gamut as a culmination of everything that came before it, thusly flaunting both a discography that is dark folk traditionalism, as well as all things experimental and introspective. Yet with all that, the lyrics and vocals never get above barely a monotone whisper, which makes everything pull you in even further. For me the experience is a warm blanket in the isolated dark, with a sound still distinct despite it's widened boundaries, and a voice that has become to feel like a friend who visits every Fall. What most who lack depth would see as nothing more than filler, I often find to be the tracks I revisit most, particularly the more droning pieces and weighted field recordings. Somewhere out there is a 36 minute unedited version of  "The Witch Cradle" that I have yet to get my hands on.

2. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms

Goddamn monstrous in it’s tone, epic and grandiose in it’s being, chasmal and introspective in-between, Bell Witch’s Four Phantoms is a sonic monolith of all of the stages of grief, sans acceptance. This behemoth of beautiful suffering plays out like a biblical testament, both in it’s context and length. With four tracks (2 full tracks actually, broken down into four and separated by each other) clocking in at over 65 minutes, and rarely ever getting over 10 beats per minute, start to finish this record is a commitment worth it’s cathartic reward. Cascading roars of grief are stifled with solemn voids of clean singing and subtle instrumentation throughout – making the simplicity of it’s sound palpable and ingestible. I swear, the riff that breaks loose just after the 17:25 mark of "Suffocatioin, a Burial: I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)" is the definitive soundtrack to the sound of an all-life consuming, dimension destroying Hell-Demon weeping his fucking eyes out.

1. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell

I kept up with Sufjan Stevens for a stretch of albums in the early to middle part of the man's career, and barring the Seven Swans record, and occasional more morose gems like the songs "John Wayne Gacy Jr." and "Holland" that appeared sporadically on full lengths - I've always felt that while I both admire and respect the artist's experimentation and individuality, most of his music always leaned a bit too much on the whimsical side for me. His brief flirtations with quieter, darker moments - as few and far between as they often felt - were so damn good that they kept me coming back for some time. It is in this practiced convention that makes Carrie and Lowell sound like such a long time coming, and so well worth the wait.

Carrie and Lowell plays like a record that is so unabashedly confessional, and painfully personal that I can't help but question if there was a hesitation to actually release it once the catharsis had been completed and realized. With his recently deceased mother as his muse, Sufjan gently cradles fragile and jagged memories of joy fleeting beneath a shadow of harrowing dysfunction, blurring the lines of autobiographical self-abuse and parental neglect. Aching with questions and regret, Sufjan's soft and vulnerable vocals contemplate and attempt to justify so much, that there is a sad, convoluted lucidity of twisting the branded memories of his mother's inadvertence and laxity into moments of nurturing and love. And beneath it all, as the stories and memories unfold in moments of childhood naivety, and confused, drug addled adulthood, there is a genuine love that guides the listener through, an unconditional love specific for a mother from a son. In place of grandiose choirs, whistles, horns and other forms of whimsical instrumentation there are atmospheric compositions swaying beneath, and guiding us seemingly into and out of memories. There are moments on this album that hit wickedly close to home for me - probably more so in my own interpretation than what is literally presented, but isn't that what great art is supposed to do? Whether it's an active dialogue with a terminal parent, or the running through of the few good times you've shared as you watch them slowly die in front of you, the realization of mortality comes calling clear as a bell, even for an eight year old boy, marking the end of childhood; if a song like Fourth Of July does nothing for you or to you, then you haven't lived it, and good for you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Album Review: Superjoint - 'Caught Up In The Gears Of Application'

Superjoint Ritual has returned after a 13 year hiatus, minus two original members, the second half of their moniker, and an all consuming drug and alcohol addiction. The Superjoint discography prior to this latest effort has always been for me - a person who has passionately followed all of Anselmo's many projects since my nosedive into Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power circa 1992 - a snapshot of his rock bottom. Unfortunately, at the same time that was one of my favorite eras of his career - starting with 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill - there was a caustic looseness to his vocals, often times slipping into indecipherable - there was also a darkness in both his delivery as well as his lyrics, dwelling on addiction, and all of the vile side effects and trauma to the psyche that go along with it. He was a fucking mess, on stage, on record, and in interviews. I'm sorry to say it, but those demons only added to everything the music was trying to be. The tension in Pantera due to all the aforementioned during this time is well documented; It was still three against one, but Superjoint Ritual was (per guitarist/bandmate/longtime best friend Jimmy Bower) pretty much all Anselmo - as he wrote "70 - 80%" of the songs.

Much has changed in the 13 years between this album and the last however. Veins are clean, consciences are clear, and the physical prowess all the more elder. As kind of goes the same for me, and possibly a large majority of the original SJR fanbase.  2002's Use Once And Destroy was catchy as fuck, eeeeeasily digestible in it's straightforward d-beat to breakdown riffage and damn near groovy at parts to boot. The band was conceived as far back as 1994 so the record had some decent time to marinate in the creative nit-picking of any long conceptualized idea - that's not to say that it's their best.  2003's A Lethal Dose Of American Hatred was sonically, lyrically, and thematically a darker record. It got a tad more grimy than it's predecessor and a lot more experimental - almost at times felt occultish. An overall reflection no doubt of the personal struggles a few of the members were having with addiction, and perhaps it's straightforwardness a reflection of the short amount of time between albums.

Caught Up In The Gears of Application feels almost mechanical in it's final output, I don't mean that it's being phoned in, rather that the guitars tend to lock in with the beating quite often here more than on previous efforts, and at that the riffs come at you almost angularly, with jagged and unexpected changes in rhythm. When you think something is going to repeat an octave lower, it stays the same - when you think something is going to break down it completely changes itself into another riff, when you think the band is going to come at you with something so killer in a synchronicity that would be reflective of their 2002 effort they get more technical than anything you could have expected. If it weren't for the crust-like surges that fuse these almost Hardcore-progressive jump-starts, or the sparce, very subtle twinge of southern metal founded thinly throughout the songs this sounds like it could be another Phil Anselmo & The Illegals record - but duh, it's in the amalgam of those qualities that Superjoint basks in it's identity. This sounds like the next logical Superjoint Ritual album, instead of taking the left hand path and getting darker, grainier, and blacker (as in black metal-er), they've taken it up a notch - a little better production, a little bit more technical, and a tad cleaner - more sobering if you will - all of which works to the group's benefit. Absolute bottom line, if you dig the old shit, you're most definitely going to dig the new shit.

Personally, I don't visit this band very often any longer - in fact; except for the entire Down catalogue, The Great Southern Trendkill, and Far Beyond Driven, I don't find myself having any kind of urge with regularity to indulge in Anselmo's projects. And so, Caught Up In The Gears Of Application never sunk it's teeth in, and I've given it a number of chances, as I did with the Phil Anselmo and the Illegals album Walk Through Exits Only with the same result. He's right at that fuckin' cusp, and it's driving me nuts. Not heavy enough to make me want to jam screwdrivers in my eyes, and nowhere near chill enough or interesting enough to make me want to listen in other aspects of my day to day living. Both Trendkill and FBD will always hold a special place in my heart, for their efforts as a mainstream band tapping into underground energy and pushing the spotlighted envelope, testing mass appeal metal audiences instead of just giving them what they want. And Down is it's own animal completely. I appreciate Phil's absolute love of extremity in music, and I don't just mean in terms of sonic weight and speed, but bat-shit experimentation and noise - I just wish he'd make the jump, and do something insanely heavy, insanely fast - taxing on all of the senses. For me, he's always come up short there. And if it's never going to happen (and let's face it, Scour was the best chance of that)  I'd rather he focus only on Down all of the time. But that's not fair and not logical, and my tastes in heavier music are more intense than most.

Top Five Grindcore albums of 2016:

Grindcore - and all it's offspring and brood - has a very special place in my heart (here's my other page dedicated to it: ) I listen to "heavier" music primarily as a catharsis. The visceral purging of emotion takes priority over how complex or creative a riff has to be to play, this music delivers said purging in jaded spades. Though many top-tier Grind bands flourish at both aspects, like any genre there are thousands of worse-than-mediocre bands trying to do it or utilizing the extremity of the sound as a bad joke, thusly overshadowing truly fantastic bands who dedicate their livelihood to a musical niche' that will never be successful nor catapult them to any sort of sterilized albeit prosperous and rewarding spotlight. It's truly a labor of love, and one that has negatively changed my opinion about a lot of the other genres of Heavy Metal out there, I mean - by comparison, aren't bands like Anthrax, Lamb Of God, Fear Factory, Pantera, Sepultura, etc. just distorted, downtuned, pop-music with strained vocals?  All traditionally structured with choruses and pre-choruses, guitar solos, intros and outros, that post second chorus breakdown - never giving in to the frenzy and always keeping that snappy little groove for you to bop your head to? Not to say that it's bad, it's just - predictable... So, now that I've pissed you off:

5. Venomous Concept - Kick Me Silly - VC III

I've often theorized and bullshitted about just how much I believe Grindcore is truly the not-so-new Punk music - extreme demands require extreme responses, and with internet and media outlets precipitating a systematic anesthetization to all things violent and depraved, we need a genre that martyrs it's very being as music by succumbing to it's own frenzied passion. While most Grindcore bands syncopate punk rhythms around the prioritized blast beats, Venomous Concept flips that equation, coming across more as a modern day punk band that occasionally leans on the very essence of it's members' collective roots in the Grindcore genre to punctuate it's sound. It works as both an anti-numbing agent to the beat down, as well as a possible gateway for those on the edge of the Punk tier who may in fact be intimidated by something even more extreme than that with which they are passionate about.

On Kick Me Silly - VC III the "supergroup" sounds like the perfect amalgam of it's parts. Herrera, Embury and Cooke (who has been playing live with ND for the past two years in Harris' unexplained absence) bring the latter day Napalm Death sound while the now defunct Brutal Truth-half utilize Lilker's feral bass and Sharp's incomparably recognizable roar to round out the band's d-beat focused punk fueled attack. While I'd still love to hear this troop get as batshit as they possibly can, it's the restrained doses of the full possibility of VC's frenzied vitriol that keep this thing coiled and popping from start to finish.


4. Wake - Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow


On Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow Wake don't give a hoot about dynamics, the stop and go strike, or anything that constitutes a casual listener's grasp of rhythm. It's all one constant, blasting dirge into dark hopelessness. The sound here throughout these eight tracks feels almost hypnotically monochromatic, which only adds to the feeling of being piled onto. It's as if somebody nasally force-fed Gaza with a half-ton of PCP (referencing one limited exposure band with another - nice). The infrequent lighter chords that are struck throughout the belligerent stampeding of blasts that provide a limited bubble for which to gasp for air in add such a depth to the music without sacrificing any of it's claustrophobic characteristics. One second longer and it would have felt like too much, one second shorter wouldn't have been enough - this tester of souls is just right.


3. Wormrot - Voices


It took two full lengths and an EP for Wormrot to really turn my ear. With time and exposure I've gained an appreciation for the raw straightforwardness of their delivery, and though that is an easy quality for to which find yourself blending in with the rest, Wormrot continue to surprise me with sporadic surges of brief experimentation in their sound. Their influences can be easily identified, but the fact that there are so many songs on Voices that dedicate their entire being to said influences and in turn different aspects of the genre, stepping away from the finality of the record deposes a dynamic and versatility in writing that really makes Voices a fun experience. The production is the best they've had yet, and I think that's a big cog to really making each instrument stand out on it's own here, giving it a very organic, plug-in-and-play feel without sounding too raw or muddled. I always thought the hype of Wormrot in the scene was focused on the wrong things, more the geographical origin of the band than anything else - the Noise EP made my dumb ass pay closer attention, but Voices has me proclaiming that the threat is real.


2. Nails - You Will Never Be One Of Us


Nails continue to astonish me in how they can produce music so tonally fucking heavy that moves so incredibly fast, I think Kurt Ballou may have had something to do with it. You Will Never Be One Of Us is a fitting third offering from the band, upping their own game in fact. Careening consciousness with sledgehammering power-violence and dizzying, Venturi-effect like blasts that succumb only to thick, slabs of crawling rhythms where strategically appropriate. Considering they're wisely sticking to the short-but-sweet M.O. of final running times under roughly 12 - 13 minutes (contractual obligations be damned), you'd think that those aforementioned qualities would make You Will Never Be One Of Us a forced, possibly contrived, convoluted mess. Instead however, the bombardments of sound are so well composed that the songs in fact seem longer than they are, and gratifyingly complete. Even the eight minute-plus closer doesn't feel out of place. Oh, and it's catchy as hell too!


1. Gendo Ikari - Unit 1


What the? Who the? Huh? Yes, I stumbled onto these guys whilst prowling the seedy underbelly of Bandcamp some time in early October, and in the time since - to my delight (thru no influence of my own) - have seen other blogs and social media sites begin to sing their praises. Hailing from Glasgow, UK, Gendo Ikari's 7-track debut does everything right for me. It's got the jagged, unpredictable blasting that isn't too above itself to break into wonderfully brief, groovy strides - all along maintaining a singular aural onslaught. The tones are sharp but still weighty, with a shitload of jarring, sudden brake application before projectile-like surges of straight up Grind come violently tumbling forth. It's awesome, and maybe it's because they seem so off the radar right now, or the production standard comes across as somewhat DIY (I do wish it was louder), but there is an antagonistic virulence driving behind it that feels just slightly more palpable and genuine than most right now to me, and I just can't ignore that. They ain't the first to do it, and admittedly it's not breaking any new ground, but Gendo Ikari have taken almost all of my favorite aspects of the genre and managed to put them together comprehensively into a short and caustic exhibition of appreciation for the fundamentals of the millennium's new wave of Grindcore.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Album Review: Foo Fighters - Saint Cecilia EP

I've made it no secret here that when it comes to the Foo Fighters I'm a fan of their older, simpler, more straight forward stuff - I continue to invest in their output because quite honestly there is a nostalgia factor with this band conceived around the time of their first album that I still rings true in their current output though admittedly way more sporadic and way more muffled in it's impact. That's not to ignore the idea that the music they do now isn't good to me, it's just lost the charm of their early material. Sonic Highways is a good rock record, but for me it's the worst thing they've ever done. Too big, too elaborate, too bombastic, and too epic. No matter how loud you turn up Foo Fighters and Colour and The Shape, they still sound quiet - and though that may seem oppositional to everything a band like this stands for as possibly the last arena rock band of our lifetime, it's in that juxtaposition that I find that aforementioned, and for lack of a better term, charm.

Saint Cecilia is a reckoning back to those days - and although it doesn't mirror the kind of production value that may have been a defining characteristic of their first few albums for me, the song writing and the energy behind the recorded tracks feel like a direct wormhole to the sessions of the mid to late 90's. Turns out, the band has admitted to utilizing riffs, ideas, and old unreleased demos that never saw the light of day (a feat in and of itself in this day and age) that ranged back as far as 20 years ago. The title track manages to palpate the arena-easy dynamics of some of their later work but never dips into becoming too pretentious, and instead harkens back to vibes of "Learning To Fly" and "Generator" - probably because they didn't have the time to throw on a whole bunch of other superfluous instrumentation. "Sean" is a quick and somewhat whimsical pop-punk driver that seriously sounds as though it was ripped directly from the tracklist of Colour and the Shape, and most would slap me for saying so, but it's also quite possibly my favorite thing they've done in some 15 years. "Saviour Breath" is cut from the same cloth as a juiced up "Weenie Beenie", "Iron Rooster" is Nothing Left To Lose era Foo balladry, and closer "The Neverending Sigh" stands alone as what I hope represents a band stepping back as a step forward - as it subtly morphs from a drive to a glide in it's momentum throughout.

In all it's glory Saint Cecilia sounds like the lost stepping stone between Colour and the Shape and Nothing Left To Lose - and while it seems as though that's all I'm dwelling on here, even standing alone from everything else they've done it's a damn fine album - of course I've always been a sucker for the not-wearing-out-your-welcome glory of the Extended Play format. I can't be comfortable in whether or not the album turned out the way it did on purpose or not; I mean, I know some of the ideas were more than two decades old, but how much of it's sound was also the result of the album being a free EP? And possibly a sit down and knock it rush recording before finally getting to take that extended hiatus? Either way, they've earned some of my trust and heart back with this one, and that's saying a lot. Do yourself a favor and download it (it's free!), and while you're add it throw "Empty Handed" from their Songs From The Laundry Room EP onto it as an opener to create a nice little half an album's worth of material that feels like a new them when they were at their best. That song sounds in every way like it should have been on the self-titled debut. Keep it up, stop "evolving" and stop trying to "save" rock 'n roll.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

'Why You Do This' - a documentary of life on the road as an extreme musician.

Car Bomb. For those of you unprevy to this two-albumed loogie of hate, know that they are a musical force to be reckoned with.  Spawned in the wake of the emergence of the ridiculously pigeon-holed genre-term "Math Metal", this four piece created albums' worth of controlled yet spasmatic ferocity the likes of which raises them above the visionless Calculating Infinity Clones pissing all over the creative original sound. Sure the influence can be heard, but Car Bomb abandons anything even close to resembling a hook or rhythm and instead comes off as a very jagged, very large pill to swallow, arguably more difficult to absorb then even some of the most unhinged Grindcore - arguably. The sound is so sharp, and so combustible, that instead of resembling 11 different tracks it's almost just one long compilation of fits and seizures. A soundtrack to the spewing forth of schizophrenic hate.
How does a band like this survive? Well, seeing as how they hadn't released anything in over 5 years I wasn't sure that they had, until I stumbled upon a documentary titled 'Why You Do This'. Just over an hour long, this short little film (put together by Car Bomb vocalist Michael Dafferner) follows the band on the road as they tread on and continue playing their undigestible brand of music despite what seems to be only a continuing series of disenchanting pit-falls and realizations. It's the usual run-of-the-mill kind of things any underground band has to deal with - playing to crowds of three or four people, automotive difficulties, being ripped off by club owners, continuously losing more money than you make - but for those who've never had the experience it makes for an interesting watch. The narraration throughout the film is mostly pessimistic, as though the whole project itself came to fruition as a result of half a decades worth of being jaded. If you don't take it as tongue-in-cheek halfway thru the doc you may find yourself telling your monitor to "just fuckin' quit then", but by the end you'll see it's not the answer that you're sticking around for but really the search for the answer. The film also uses Lamb of God and Gojira as examples of two groups who were able to claw their way 'tooth and nail' out of the underground to headline their own tour and earn an opening slot playing for Metallica. Poor examples in my opinion as both those bands earn their living on the other side of extreme music's line in the sand due to their sound being so accessible in comparison to a group like Carbomb. Lamb Of God is par for the course with a band like Slipknot, damn good at what they do, but still just a rehash of riffs and ideas that worked years before when Meshuggah, Sepultura and Slayer carved their paths (Phil Anselmo called and said he wants his tough-mumblings-over-tougher-riffs act back Mr. Blythe), but I digress. They were probably the only ones willing or available to contribute interviews and without them there would be an air of hoplessness throughout the film. The doc also includes interviews with members of Bella Morte, The Chariot, and Soilent Green, not to mention a spot-on 'why I do this' summarization about playing extreme music from ex-Death/current Charred Walls of the Damned drummer Richard Christy. The film is an eye opener for anybody that hasn't tried traveling across the country in a shit-box van w/trailer, and makes you thankful that groups like this don't toss their gear into the Ol' Miss while driving over it and call it a day. Can you imagine a world without violent basement shows where the fuse blows every song and Hepatitis C creeps like grave moss through bloody knuckes and abrased skin in mock-jungle temperatures? As I type this from the comfort of the home I own and live in comfortably I tell you that I cannot. So god bless those cursed with the passion for playing extreme music, and sacrificing their own comfort to tread across this country and scrape by with no expectations of ever seeing a light at the end of a tunnel or a multi-million dollar record contract not to mention even a mere 2 minutes on the radio. The film doesn't break any new ground, nor does it necessarily draw you in - but much like the Discordance Axis novella 'Compiling Autumn', the fact that it exists is a bonus. Fans of the scene and the band should consider themselves fortunate that someone was passionate enough about what they do to compile the resources and take the time needed to create it and make it available without profiting. So you should take the time to watch the doc if you're into the scene at all. Check it out below and order yourself a copy here.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hidden Gems: Part 1 - Career Highlight B-Sides

I've always been positively fascinated with B-sides, tracks that just didn't make the cut for one reason or another. Either because of time constraints or maybe not fitting in with the theme of an album. Sometimes it's the band trying something experimental they think just won't cut it on an album, or  may piss off fans. It kind of feels like you can get away with more with a B-side. A group can try something different or simply not overthink a song; if it gets flack you can shrug your shoulders and say "eh, it's a B-side". Or it's for something more specific. Often I think a one-off in a studio to record a song for a soundtrack or tribute album is just an awesome little snapshot of your art between phases.

In this day and age B-sides are kind of becoming a thing of the past. Casual listeners don't need singles when you can purchase a single song off any album on ITunes. And pretty much anything can be dug up with an ample youtube search. The following is a not-too-thought out list of bands whose B-side track - not available on any of their own regular discography (including Greatest Hits albums and B-side collections) - is arguably one of the best things they've ever done.  I tried to stay away from the independent bands ripping up the underground because who can even keep track? Splits, demos, independent compilations, a burnt CD of new material only being circulated at shows... Sure Agoraphobic Nosebleed's 'Assault Rifle' is one of their catchiest and most sonically crippling and can only be found on the vinyl only split with Insect Warfare, but at that point where do you draw the line?  For the most part I kept the following list to the more mainstream acts that actually got asked to contribute to something or had a single to sell: In no particular order:

Silverchair - Ramble
Album: Without You Single

Diorama is one of the best albums I own. Silverchair ripped themselves from the herd with that one, even with the weight of a couple of really sappy ballads that record is still amazing.  'Ramble' is one of the best pieces from those sessions, and I've always thought it could easily replace either 'Luv Your Life' or 'After All These Years' and only add to that records greatness rather than possibly run your ears down with more symphonic balladry by album's end. And while both 'Hollywood' and 'Pins In My Needles' are other b-sides from those sessions most definitely worth mentioning, Ramble stands above them both with it's uplifting vibage and over-all composition. (The shitty quality version of the song above was the only vid I could find).  Unfortunately, as it turns out the label told Johns to write a radio friendly song for Diorama after hearing the finished product. By this time the record as we know it was done and the band's vision was completed, this song remained a B-side due to Johns' resentment of it being forced on him.

Anthrax - Poison My Eyes
Album: Last Action Hero Soundtrack

As a huge fan of the Bush-era of Anthrax back in my early twenties this track was king. Sounding like it was recorded during or around the Sound Of White Noise sessions, the slow-burn intro and outro help this 7-minute hard rock-fest reach near epic proportions. While most late-80's thrash dudes who haven't listened to anything outside of the Big Four in the last 20 years pine on about how much better the albums were with Belladonna on vox, I can't help but feel like the group stood out more and better as a hard rock / heavy metal band away from the watered-down thrash rat race their peers were all involved in. The Anthrax of today are nothing more than money-hungry sell-out iconoclasts cashing in on nostalgia tours and shitting down the throats of the fans that lifted them up. Also check out their B-side to the 'Nothing' single from the criminally under-rated  Stomp 442 sessions 'Grunt & Click'.

Korn - Proud
Album: I Know What You Did Last Summer Soundtrack

Goddamn... What a great example of how awesome these fuckholes used to be. The song speaks for itself, written and recorded before they became the clich├ęd rock n' roll joke they are now. No! I'll keep it positive! Still speedballing, methed out, and dealing with a whole shitload of childhood abuse issues, 'Proud' is an unplayful, ditch-the-hip hop twinge, straight up purging; bolstering possibly the best build-up to climax they've ever done in a song - and considering that that was kind of their thing back then is saying a lot. There are many complicated questions we may never know the answers to with which this tracks existence only adds to as parabola: What happens after we die? What is Stonehenge? Who really murdered Teresa Halbach, HOW DID THIS SONG NOT MAKE IT ONTO AN ALBUM!?

Pig Destroyer - The Octagonal Stairway
Album: Adult Swim Singles Soundtrack

Bookended by ominously industrial tones that fade in and out, 'Octagonal Stairway' presents itself as truly a stand-alone track amongst a genre whose short controlled bursts of belligerence often depend on the collective momentum and strain of an album's worth of material to deliver it's summed blow. 'Octagonal Stairway' also bolsters a much more visceral production style than it's closest peer session for 2012's Book Burner - whose much cleaner sound was a castigation point for Grindcore elitists. In the grand scheme of the band's discography this song is epic in terms of it's straightforward battery of the senses as well as it's length; at almost four minutes long, it retains it's Grind traits while defying traditional durations by extending itself with thrash like breakdowns and dizzying guitar riffs - basically an all-encompassing stamp of everything PxDx has evolved into and continue to masterfully execute. 

Radiohead - True Love Waits
Album: Unreleased

This one is kind of interesting because it sort of breaks my own rules for this time around. The original version of 'True Love Waits' to be released was on the live E.P. I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, which contains a version of Yorke singing the ballad acoustically by himself. This version here is the unreleased studio recording of the same song. It's fairly straightforward considering the late paths into electronica Radiohead have taken in the latter half of their career. Those of you jonesing for more material that harkens back to the days of The Bends may find this off-the-radar song some kind of wonderful.

Foo Fighters - A320
Album: Godzilla Soundtrack

This was released somewhere between The Colour and the Shape and There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and guessing from both the sound, songwriting and most definitely the budget,  I can assume it was recorded closer to the former. This was a flash of things to come from the Foo, but at the time it was something so seemingly out of their league that it became one hell of a hidden gem and a half. A gentle monologue that builds to a soaring instrumental latter half, sonically painting it's theme onto our imaginations as our narrator's plane comes gently plummeting to the ground, disappearing into the clouds below during the fade out. A mature and well written number that scoffs at mainstream rock song structures and actually includes, strings? Are those strings I hear from the band in 1998? I typically wave the flag for this band's earlier, simpler efforts, but while this kind of thing is just another spoke in the wheel for Foo Fighters now,  back then it was, in their catalogue, a beautiful and epic movement - and remains so for me. This may not be my personal favorite B-side from the Foo, but it is the most agreeable of their non-album works in terms of it's awesomeness.

Chris Cornell - Sunshower
Album: Great Expectations Soundtrack

I suppose I can understand how some may roll their eyes at this song, voiding it pretty high on the possible cheese factor - it's inclusion and role in the movie that presents it doesn't help it's case any. A steamy scene where a young adult Ethan Hawke bangs the young adult Gwyneth Paltrow for the first time after longing for her for most of his childhood. For me it's a five star track. The melodies, lyrics, sound and over-all flow of the song just seemed to come along at the right time and add to the perfect storm of self-induced feelings of worthlessness I once got off on and being 20 years old. Having never seen the movie until 2013 may have also helped me enjoy 'Sunshower' for what it is as a stand-alone track and not a relation to the format of it's source. Following the acoustic version of 'Like Suicide' that floated around (another gem found on the S.F.W. soundtrack as well as amongst Soundgarden B-side collections) and 'Seasons', which slept on 1992's Singles soundtrack - 'Sunshower' seemed to be the final and most verifiable promise of a phenomenal solo career for Cornell. Unfortnately nothing that followed on 1999's Euphoria Morning, 2007's Carry On, or the utterly abominable Scream (2009) compared to this or anything he scarcely did before.

Pantera - Avoid The Light
Album: Dracula 2000 Soundtrack

Pantera was a band that prided themselves on not having B-sides. Typically, when a song didn't work that shit was flushed or the pieces that did work were worked into another song (see 'Piss' and 'Use My Third Arm'). 'Avoid The Light' is a song that really is it's own animal. Experimental guitar tones and riffing that could pass on a Meathook Seed album teeter over a tripped-out soft to heavy structure reminiscent to the kind of stellar shit that helped lay the foundation for the bandwagon killing The Great Southern Trendkill. More akin to TGSTK's 'Living Through Me (Hell's Wrath)' than anything else they'd done previously or since, 'Avoid The Light' is a very uncommercial effort that remains a sleeper amongst fans today. That being said it's a difficult song to fit on an album without bringing momentum to a damn near halt. The occult-tinged lyrics indicate that the song may have even been recorded specifically for the soundtrack itself. There's not a lot of info out there about this one, except that it's arguably one of the best things they've done.

Nine Inch Nails - The Perfect Drug
Album: Lost Highway Soundtrack

I'm not a huge fan of Nine Inch Nails, I dig them alright but I haven't followed so closely the last decade or two - though I will say 2013's Hesitation Marks sort of brought my attention back. That's not to say I don't think that what Reznor does isn't great. I can think of a handful of tunes that are actually better than The Perfect Drug - 'Something I Can Never Have', 'A Warm Place', 'Hurt', and 'The Frail' all come to mind - but they're all also more along the lines of slower, more orchestral, closer to the heart types of movements. A niche' I believe he burns the strongest in. 'The Perfect Drug's frantic energy and pace, however, puts it more akin to his faster, more metal-tinged staples like Wish, and Head Like A Hole - only better - and for me makes this one of the few NIN songs that actually makes me want to move.

Type O Negative - Haunted (Per-Version)
Album: Life Is Killing Me (Bonus CD of European Import)

The original version of Haunted had always been my favorite Type O Negative song; the idea that it could be improved upon seemed like an effort in futility to me; the "Per-Version" version showcases the same slow-moving titanic rhythms draped in the soliloquy of a desperate man in love and lust with a ghost. The vocal patterns are different and arguably improved upon with an almost Gregorian Monk-like delivery, and ear-wettingly eerie keyboard effects are sparsely added to the composition amongst other very subtle changes here and there - including a much more appropriate fade-out to the song rather than the abrupt Beatles-esque stoppage in the original. I can only imagine the soul-tearing creative decision making process singer/songwriter Peter Steele must have endured in determining which version would make the October Rust LP... Who am I kidding, it was probably just a flip of the coin.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Top Ten Favorite Albums of 2014

I don't always listen to albums when they're released. It's not that I don't get around to it - it's just that most times a flavor is best savored for a certain time of the year. Moons align, winds change, seasons whither - everything has it's soundtrack. In turn, sometimes that leaves a two year window for which to satisfy my sonic palette, especially when a record is released just after it's most appropriately designated epoch. So consider this a list in arrears. These are my favorite ten albums that were released in 2014:

10. Big Wreck - Ghosts

It wouldn't take much for Big Wreck to become a ridiculously annoying mainstream rock radio act, ala their Canadian country-mates Nickelback, prob. just a right place right time sort of scenario; I can only assume the career long tenure of intelligent riffs and eclectic influences taints the almost sickening catchiness of some of the melodies singer/songwriter Ian Thornley has been spinning since 1997's 10/10 In Loving Memory Of. B-dub's fourth magnum opus (and I mean that as Ghosts clocks in at an hour and ten minutes) hands that equation over in spades. Ghosts does a fantastic job of incorporating a little bit of everything they've done in their discography thus far, as well as exploring new territory - a fantastic formula for fans who have been listening since their inception (me), and were still thirsty for more after the 13 year hiatus breaker Albatross. I have a soft spot for Big Wreck; so while most may feel Ghosts is a bit uneven and hit-or-miss I blame nostalgia and a lack of similar acts in my collection for my sway.  The "heavier" songs groove in all the right places and soar in their melodic chorus', so much so that the sugar would be almost too sweet in spots if it wasn't peppered along the way with more exploratory, sometimes near-brooding journeys that remind you why you haven't seen them play on the Super Bowl Halftime show - because despite the ridiculous radio catchiness in places, Big Wreck never dial back in lengths, or experimentation just off-the-mark enough to keep them off of the radar of impatient FM drifters.

9. Down - Down IV Part 2

The second EP in the four part series that will total Down IV is the least likely of anything they've done to win over any new fans. That being said, it gathers both it's strength and it's appeal from the group's back catalogue as both this EP and the one that preceded it seem an animal all their own, yet a fitting piece in the evolving totality of the body of work; as any seasoned Down fan will testify, as is each release, but Down IV Part 2 is easily the most raw and visceral of it's bretheren. It's the sound of a band that's completely stripped itself of the bells and whistles, there is a grainy salt to it that isn't easy to rub against; especially for the close-minded Douche-lords still clinging to NOLA as a work unrivaled. This is Down weathered and beaten, showcasing the seasoned veterans they've become, and the pioneers of a sound they've evolved from since emerging as a third-generation Black Sabbath influence, plugging in and just fucking going for it - and the album does an amazing job of capturing that vibe. It's dark, groovy and as heavy as a really heavy thing. At  near 40 minutes long this feels less like an EP and more of exactly what it's supposed to be, another cog in the damn wheel of the big machine; listeners would be crumbling under the weight of both EP's as one album like Atlas if they released them more traditionally. Yet Down IV Part 2 ends it's marshy tread in a warm and hazy acoustic passage that feels like a proper closing to a first half, an intimation of clearer paths ahead, and perhaps a promise to be fulfilled in the form of the unplugged record Down has been talking about for nearly twenty years.

8. Pallbearer - Foundations Of Burden

Foundations Of Burden is a fucking mammoth of an album, this low-tuned slab of Candlemass-like doom is like a slow moving leviathan laying waste to landscapes as it slowly treads forth, and yet in places in grooves...interesting. I typically limit myself in most of the more sub-sub genres of heavy metal so as not to water down what I already enjoy, at the risk of sounding too much like a Mountain Dew commercial, I typically gravitate to the more extreme of these; which means I like my doom weepy with church bells and at 0.5 beats per minute. While Pallbearer sounds more like a direct descendant of Warning, or dare I say a great, great grandchild of Black Sabbath, it still delivers right where it's supposed to every time. 'Watcher In The Dark' makes you move when it starts to roll - whether you want to or not, the latter half of 'Foundations' ties your heartstrings to an anvil before kicking it over into a chasm, and I've never heard a better, cooler or more subtle riff transition than the 5 to 7 minute mark of the fantastic 'Worlds Apart'. Not to mention the new dimension of sound that  'Ashes' exhibits, never previously heard from Pallbearer, for to which I'd love for them to expound upon in future endeavors.

7. Gridlink - Longhena

While most modern more moderate to major label (budget) Grind bands like to power forth like a jet-fueled bulldozer through a landmine field, Gridlink harnesses their art like a swarm of carnivorous locusts swirling high above and collectively dive bombing their target audience in a high-end, flesh-lacerating assault. Gridlink had announced that Longhena would be their final effort whilst they were hashing it out - thusly making it's initial digestions upon release an almost religious experience to their rabid fan base, myself included. While both of this album's predecessors, Amber Grey and Orphan were fantastically frenzied fits of pure-Grind-blurring madness - the second showing an impressive progression from the first - the pattern continues and unfortunately ends with Longhena. Almost longer than the first two albums combined, at 23 minutes Longhena's penchant for injecting an almost uplifting foundation amongst the trademark six-string hurricane fury makes the album feel like an exhausting Grindcore epic. Sans the blueprint-defying violin heavy third track 'Thirst Watcher' (which adds incredible scope to the album rather than breaking it's momentum), Longhena's remaining 13 tracks pin you helplessly against the wall like a giant centrifuge and pulls you along for the ride. Kudos to Jon Chang for also recruiting Joey Molinaro to contribute, who's violin cover of Chang's previous band Discordance Axis' The Inalienable Dreamless was one of the coolest tributes to have ever made it's way to day.

6. Beck - Morning Phase

Sea Change was one of those albums that just came along at the right time under the right circumstances and bore itself into my spirit and left a scar. A phenomena that seems to happen a whole lot more when you're a twenty something borderline alcoholic shut-in, living alone with questionable social anxiety disorder. The only other thing I own from Beck is the Loser single because I thought the B-side 'Fume' was goddamn dope - and I may have downloaded 'Chemtrails' somewhere down the line. The point is that while I totally respect the guy's Ween-like ability to do whatever he wants I'm not a huge fan. So it was always a hard pill to swallow that Sea Change very well could have been a once in a career kind of album for him. Enter Morning Phase; a reunion of the Sea Change session musicians and an unofficial sequel to that album. Morning Phase harkens back to it's kin strongest in songs with strong and slightly morose string arrangements, 'Cycle', 'Wave' and 'Phase' could easily be placed anywhere on Sea Change's tracklist and only have made that album stronger than it already was. The other songs all bear the obvious resemblance: heavily acoustic songs with southern twinges, the subtle electronic flourishes that peppered Sea Change are not exactly glaringly absent, but noticeable to a guy who played the shit out of it. The comparison is always going to be there, I can't talk about one without the other as I consider Sea Change to be one of the best albums I own, and even the artwork of Morning Phase strikes a resemblance - so this can indeed be construed as a sequel, if not sibling. Unfortunately head to head Morning Phase is slightly more than disappointing - but mind you I only said slightly, which means it's still a damn good album. Despite the stellar songwriting on here I can't help but feel that some of the emotion feels a bit manufactured, but Morning Phase is also a more uplifting effort than it's better half - of course I'm also a very different person than I was which leads me to wonder how I would have felt about it if this was the year 2003.

5. This Will Destroy You - Another Language

This Will Destroy You's 2011 album Tunnel Blanket was the first time in the band's career that they didn't sound like they were trying to be Explosions In The Sky. The second rate formula of climactic inspirational guitar movements was abandoned for ebow heavy, keyboard laden ambience that really didn't stress itself out if it didn't go anywhere - and it was awesome, because I'm kind of really into that sort of thing if it's done right. 2014's Another Language injects that formless beauty into their previous more traditional songwriting thus creating a congealed and atmospheric record that is grandiose and cinematic in it's scope. Each track brandishing new sounds between beautifully understated melodies gives every cut it's own character and chapter place. I enjoyed Tunnel Blanket more than this record, but with Explosions In The Sky busy wasting their time collaborating on movie soundtracks there is a gap in my collection that TWDY is slowly beginning to fill with their ballsy and improved upon experimentations in sound.

4. Cloud Rat - Blind River

On Blind River, Cloud Rat dilute their dark, claustrophobic grind with desperate melodies that hint of hope beyond the glimmer of light so far away that is the surface of normalcy. That filthy feeling of raging disgust in the face of relapse and withdrawl in a home that lets in no light. It's a formula that doesn't stray far from what the band has always done, but with each effort Cloud Rat seem to be chiseling down the shapeless effigy into something more beautiful despite it's hardened and bitter mold. The strict confines of the Grindcore genre always prove a challenging channel to navigate and be original in without losing ones vision or identity or just sounding like you're trying too hard. The emotive and vitriolic purge of Blind River builds intersections and options in that channel - all the while maintaining the minimalistic simplicity of the plug-in-and-play sound.

3. Life And Times - Lost Bees

After the not-as-good-as-the-rest-of-their-records 2012 release of No One Loves You Like I Do, Life and Times return to the front waving the bright and honorable banner of new-millennial space grunge colored to the same shade as their phenomenal mini-opus (EP) The Magician. Forgive the god-awful pop-culture reference here, but Lost Bees is all about dat bass. With a tone that cuts through butter, and dialed in to the mix so goddamn perfectly, it is the groovy-as-fuck anchor that keeps the songs moving along whilst vocalist/lead guitarist Alan Epps finger dances up and down the frets and punches in and out of different effects pedals creating high-end audio explosions of colorful sonic confetti that rain down upon the core until everything occasionally locks into a rhythm. This formula serves to amplify the sonic wallop you may be expecting in a crescendo but are never prepared for (i.e. the chorus of 'Again' and 'Passion Pit') even after the first couple of listens. It's like a handjob to the ears. Ever since the perfection of the all-too-short Magician EP, I've been longing for Life and Times to do something as similar and consistently awesome; a difficult feat for an LP - but Lost Bees comes very close to that notion. Extracting the five best tracks from this album: 'Again', 'Ice Cream Eyes', 'Bored To Death', 'Passion Pit', and 'King of the Hive'; to go toe to toe with the 22 minutes of alt-rock glory that is The Magician may result in a controversial split decision in the end. Add to that the fact that Lost Bees is indeed a full LP with arguably no filler (maybe 'Eyes and Teeth') and gives us five additional tracks on top of those may be cause to tip the scale in it's favor. That's not to take anything away from the rest of their discography, as it's all very good - it's just nice to experience a selfish desire come to fruition. And truth is there is no competition here, in the end Lost Bees is just a stop at a wonderfully cohesive and rockin' oasis in the Life and Times musical journey.

2. Opeth - Pale Communion

Pale Communion is everything you'd expect from modern day Opeth, which means you're not quite sure what to expect at all other than something cleverly progressive, which includes all of the trademarks that Pale Communion nails on the mark: eclectic instrumentation, organic sound and phenomenal songwriting. Everything else is the journey that this album feels like from the first song to the last. The pensive groove of 'Moon Above Sun Below' that takes a turn for the sinister in the latter half. The playful 'Goblin', which sounds as though it was directly inspired by the (specifically Roller-era) 70's/80's Italian progressive rock ensemble of the same name that scored such classic horror films as Suspiria, Zombi and the European version of Dawn Of The Dead.  The soaking-in-rain sadness of 'Elysian Woes', the surprisingly uplifting 'River' (which sounds like it could have been on a Foo Fighters album - in a good way), and the bleak and wintery 'Faith In Others' are all valleys, mountains, and deserts to cross. I've always said that Opeth sounds like what a Death Metal band would have sounded like in the 70's had Death Metal existed in the 70's (especially 2002's spectacular Deliverance). They may have completely abandoned their Death Metal roots, but their new straight-forward progressive approach isn't something as out-of-the blue as the jean jacketed long-haired hard-ons stuck in that phase whine about (hello? Damnation?). Both Pale Communion and it's predecessor Heritage pull from that era's progressive bands as influence, most notably old Genesis and the aforementioned Goblin. This is actually the best album on this list, however - it's not my favorite - so....

1. Lantlos - Melting Sun

What is it with pink albums from bands with Black Metal roots always making my #1? Produced to the nines, volume pushed to the tens, layered, layered, layered and lush, lush, lush - Melting Sun is an atmospheric Black Metal band gone beautiful and bombastic. Towing a line somewhere between Hum, Isis (the band) and Jesu, we're presented here with six giant bejeweled movements that damn near sound like the Summer time version of Type O Negative's October Rust (in atmosphere and overall vibe specific to the season, not baritone or style - nevermind). Unafraid to develop slowly, or not develop at all - such as the droning of 'Oneironaut' and the simplicity of closer 'Golden Mind' - we're allowed to go for the ride and sonically soar with gigantically beautiful birds of prey - and by that I'm inferring to the big shiny brilliant melodies here - as they fly too close to the sun and actually evolve from it. Honestly there is nothing really new happening here, and it's all so cosmetic. Strip this fucker down to four or five instrument tracks, and give it a way more modest production value and I can't really say that it would be as impressive to me, but that's not the way it is. It still tweaks and combines those Post-Metal and Shoegaze traits enough to present the listener with something fresh and never quite heard before. Just like it's chromatically gloaming pre-twilight packaging, this album is as sweet as candy.