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.
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.