Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top Ten of 2009?

10. Nihill, "Grond" CD/LP (Hydra Head)

When describing black metal, I find myself thinking the word "brutal" is often over-used. The term makes me think of hardcore kids, or death metal fans getting rowdy as shit, breaking things, and hurting each other. For that, there is a time and a place, sure (Posi #'s, Maryland Deathfest, etc.) but in the case of black metal albums, this notion of "brutality" has always seemed (to me) a stretch. Sure, there are bands, albums, and songs that make me want to smash shit (Craft and Leviathan come to mind first,) but I'd be listening to Mind Eraser or Entombed if I was looking for something to obvious as that. No, when I listen to Black Metal I'm looking for unadulterated hatred. Anger that cannot be quelled, but with a sense of misanthropy rather than incited rage. I want to feel like I'm listening to a bunch of outsiders, not kids who host parties or were popular in school.
I don't really think there's anything wrong with this new school of Black Metal that's emerged over the past three years. I think bands like Deathspell Omega have worked long and hard at their craft and are pushing the envelope, perhaps in ways that purists aren't quite comfortable with, but Nihill (hailing from the Netherlands) exhibit the writing skill, the desire to push their music forward, and the lyrical spite that I feel benefit metal rather than holding it back in desperate mimicry.
It's arguable that better black metal albums dropped last year, but this one appealed to me immediately, and despite myself, production value goes a long way for my ears, so forgive me for choosing a sleeper on a "bigger" label (Hydra Head) over something by Volahn, Ashdautus, or Bone Awl, as good as they each are in their own right. I'm not trying to prove that I have the most underground taste or wildest collection of demo tapes. I'm just typing (in a slightly more masturbatory manner than usual) about last year's best records.
A musician I have a certain respect for was recently mentioning in his own blog that the top albums in any given year are not necessarily those I deem best as of January first the following year... time will prove a much better judge than myself, this serves best as a notion of what I could recall enjoying as the year wrapped.

... also recommended Wolves in the Throne Room, "Black Cascade" CD 2xLP (Southern Lord)

09. Screen Vinyl Image, "Interceptors" CD/LP (Custom Made Music/Safranin)
Dreamy synth-pop with a dark edge. This brother and sister based band from Maryland recorded with a drum machine, played live with a drummer, and then gave him the boot after a Japanese tour. Can't say I have a preference for the live act with the drums, or the album with the drum machine, but either way I found myself surprisingly into this debut full length (after an EP, and split LP with Virginia's Ceremony). Swirling, shoe-gaze guitars mixed with a driving rhythm section and layers of sound loops. Catchy as hell, and kind of spooky at times. That is, spooky like that cute chick with the black hair and pin-striped jacket in your coffee shop, not like an episode of Celebrity Ghost Sightings. Perfect for driving late at night, and highly recommended for fans of My Bloody Valentine, New Order, and Depeche Mode.

... also recommended (on a more psychedelic tip), Warlocks, "The Mirror Explodes" (Tee Pee)

08. Cult Ritual, "Cult Ritual" LP (Youth Attack)

The best, fucked up punk album to drop in a while.
Sadly, it's potentially ushered forth a horde of imitators, citing Sonic Youth, Flipper, and later Black Flag as influences while they ride the wave that Pissed Jeans, Sex Vid, Total Abuse, Clockcleaner, and these dudes towed in, but the weak and lame, like always, will fall by the wayside and the true innovators will be remembered. This album was a high point for hardcore in a year that wallowed in mire.
Probably best that they broke up at their arguable peak, but it appears (from the Nazi Dust demo and Slave Scene 7"), that the Kvlt Ritval dudes aren't really calling it a day just yet.

... also recommended Taylor Bow. "Taylor Bow" LP (Youth Attack)

07. A Storm of Light, "Forgive Us Our Trespasses" CD/2xLP (Neurot)

Saw these dudes open for Wolves in The Throne Room this summer and they might have stolen the show. Perfectly executed, noisy, heavy, and forward-thinking. It was like seeing a three-piece version of Neurosis (which makes sense, as their frontman has done lights/visuals for The Tribe of Neurot for more than a handful of years and later formed the much acclaimed Red Sparrowes.) This new album picks up right where they left off with on their split LP with Nadja, melding lush melodies with pounding bass and drums.
Great band with consistently solid output. Get into it.

... also recommended, "Primitive North" split CD/2xLP with Nadja (Robotic Empire)

06. Swallowed Up, "This Is, And Goddamn Is It!" 10" (Self Released)

No image here, but this is (for me, at least) all I hope for in modern hardcore. Well executed, intelligent, and thoughtful.
The members of Swallowed up live in a collective outside of New York, and live and breathe DIY. They hand-screened and hand-sewed every copy of their 10", and refuse to let a[ny] label get their hands on their music, despite several offers.
Musically similar to Panic, The Hope Conspiracy, and even Trial or Catharsis at times, but in theory and practice reminiscent of Reversal of Man, Fugazi, pg. 99, or Born Against.
PC, against the grain, and 100% serious about every word they say. Jah bless, this is an offering from the Hardcore Gods, whether or not modern hardcore knows it.

... also recommended, Pulling Teeth, "Paranoid Delusions/Paradise Illusions" CD/LP (Deathwish/A389)

05. Sunn O))), "Monoliths & Dimensions" CD/2xLP (Southern Lord)

Easily my favorite Sunn album to date. Anderson and O'Malley find themselves accompanied by (for all intensive purposes) a stringed orchestra, and frequent collaborators like Oren Ambarchi and Attila.
They begin with the haunting "Aghartha," and so shall you.
Let the music speak for itself. This is the album that takes minimalism up a notch, and proves that drone is indeed "music."

... also recommended, Khanate, "Clean Hands Go Foul" CD/LP (Hydra Head), and The Bastard Noise & Christian Renou, "Brainstorming II (House Pig).

04. Converge, "Axe to Fall" CD/LP (Epitaph/Deathwish)

Won't bullshit. Not my favorite Converge album, but when these dudes drop a new album, it will inevitably be one of the year's best. A few power-metal influenced tracks; a Jesus Lizard-esque romp; two longer, slower numbers, one reminiscent of Tom Waits (and featuring Steve Von Til, of Neurosis), and a handful of songs that will be played at every Converge show for years to come.
You've probably heard how everybody else in the God-forsaken world of metal and hardcore plays on this record. Uffe from Entombed and Disfear, most of Cave In, some jerks from Ghengis Kahn, George from Blacklisted, Triv from 108, etc. It's not a collaboration album though - this is a Converge record, and a good one, the guys just decided to try something new, and on most fronts they succeed. Even their short-comings outshine the majority of their peers however, so how much do I really give a shit?

... also recommended, Doomriders, "Darkness Comes Alive" CD/LP (Deathwish)

03. Tombs, "Winter Hours" CD/LP (Relapse)

Not usually that into the Relapse stuff, save for maybe Pig Destroyer and ANB, but I couldn't wait for this fucker to drop. Mike Hill (Anodyne, Versoma, etc.) has compiled another full length of his paranoid isolation, lack of understanding the rest of humanity, and musical fucking prowess.
The dude has a great tone, and a way of playing that I can't recall hearing from anyone else, but without being flashy or full of shit. He just knows when to restrain, when to rage, and who to fill out his band with. Since their debut "EP," Tombs have obtained a new drummer, and (to my understanding?) bassist as well.
Not a whole lot to say here. I like the way Mr. Hill writes and plays music, I like the things he has to say, and I think this band smokes live. At times this album borrows heavily from black metal pioneers like Darkthrone and Burzum, but Tombs take heavy cues from The Jesus Lizard, Swans, Rollins Band, and many, many more punk, metal, and noise-rock bands. Thankfully though, they know better than to borrow and steal, and have crafted a brainchild of their own.
I expect no less from a veteran like Hill at this point, but it's nice to be pleasantly surprised, isn't it?

... also recommended, Shrinebuilder, "Shrinebuilder" CD/LP (Neurot)

02. Hatred Surge, "Deconstruct" LP/Cassette (RS/Financial Ruin)

It pleases me greatly to see hope for grindcore beyond rehashing the best albums and bands of the 80's and 90's. Hatred Surge take a highly power-violence influenced approach to the trade, which has tied them to bands like Iron Lung and The Endless Blockade, but hold true to their Gulf Coast roots (Insect Warfare, Mammoth Grinder, Faithealer, NIBIRU, War Master, etc.)
With last year's "Servant b/w Bestial" EP, the band took their no-bullshit, 1000mph assault to a lower gear, and churned out two heavier-than-hell monsters. With their full length, momentum has again been gained and the band rages through seventeen songs in just under nineteen minutes. After all, why change one of the best parts of grindcore?

... also recommended, Iron Lung/Walls/PHT "Public Humiliation" Collaboration LP (Iron Lung)

01. Moutheater, "Ornament" CD (Thrashed!)

Heavy, dirty, rock and roll highly influenced by hardcore. Seven stellar tracks of Am-Rep friendly dirge and three noise pieces compile this stellar debut of a full-length. I don't think I listened to another album for two weeks after "Ornament" came out.
I won't drag this one out. If you don't know the record, order a copy, go see the band live when they come through your town this summer, and like myself, you'll eagerly await their next effort. For fans of Nirvana, The Melvins, Tad, The Jesus Lizard, Helmet, Deadguy, Unsane, etc.

... also recommended, Fight Amp, "Manners and Praise" CD/LP (At a Loss/Brutal Panda)

With that said, some great EP's from last year included...
- Ash Pool's, "Saturn's Slave" 7" (Hospital Productions)
Two raging black metal tracks highly influenced by Oi and Hardcore.
- Slices (Two self-titled 7"s, one on 16Oh, and another on Home Invasion)
"If Crossed Out played Side B of My War." Awesome, noisy hardcore from Pittsburgh.
- Low Threat Profile - s/t 7" (Deep Six)
Dudes from No Comment, Infest, and Lack of Interest. They've still got it.
- Nazi Dust - Demo (Self-Released)
Members of Cult Ritual. Sounds like Life's Blood, but new. And frankly, better.

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