10. YOB—Atma (Profound Lore)
It’s significant that the front and back cover depict the horizon—a destination that you can see but can never reach. The songs themselves are about the limits you perceive and the limits that don’t exist. “It ain't about yourself/Get out of yourself” as the chorus demands in “Get Off Get Out.” They lay it on thick—big ballads, strings, female vocals, spoken word passages—but Steven Wilson’s mix places every element just so, streamlining these songs so that they plunge directly into the core of my being. Originally released in 2010 and issued domestically in 2011, I think this is the best Anathema album since Alternative 4. I’m in awe of its power.
8. Ghost—Opus Eponymous (Metal Blade)
Another thing in Ghosts’s favour was that they themselves owned up to it all: "Naysayers will accuse us of being pretentious, which we are, or gimmicky, which we are." That conspiratorial wink I can hear in their music is intentional, apparently, but in the end, who cares? This short, punchy album will be over by the time you're done pondering matters of authenticity, "coolness," etc. Maybe they did actually melt down a bunch of Roky Erickson, Mercyful Fate, and BÖC LPs, have the resulting blob blessed by Satan, then used it to press their own work. Whether by diabolical accident or infernal design, you can hear all these things coming together on Opus Eponymous. The simple arrangements, wonderfully unspectacular recording, and unabashed yet diabolical tunefulness produce a time-warp effect, to the point where I half expect/half hope to be able to search up vintage footage of "Stand By Him" on Top of the Pops, complete with girls swaying awkwardly in their crocheted ponchos and yellow flares.
Grace For Drowning is a trip through the darker side of prog that recalls King Crimson prior to their 1974 hiatus. Blasts of Mellotron choir signal imminent doom while saxophones rage in protest. Storms roil, clouds part. The epic songs are really epic, while some of the shorter numbers (“Index” and “Postcard”) are tackled with a simplicity that might elude a Porcupine Tree production. In fact there’s a stripped-down, elemental feel to the whole thing. “Remainder the Black Dog” and “Raider II” are big statements drawn in clear, broad strokes. It’s a sign of the material’s quality that you or I could walk up to a piano and most likely pick out the notes. There’s some jazz, too, adding to the album’s unpredictability and air of mystery. The influence is not as pronounced as others may claim; the jazz enters in some free passages where the sax or flute gets to have a blow, as well as in (brilliant) drummer Theo Travis’s in-the-pocket style. By picking away at the crust of post-everything modernity and revisiting old values in earnest, Steve Wilson’s recorded his most radical work.
But here’s how I feel. As a lifelong metal and progressive rock fan, Opeth have been a gift. I can’t imagine a better band to have followed from their debut album. It was a great day when I first found Orchid in the miscellaneous “O” bin at Sam the Record Man. Their streak of quality releases and their graceful progression from progressive death metal to progressive rock has been amazing. I thought they’d take a left turn much earlier than they actually did. When Still Life, their fourth album, came out, I remember being surprised that they were staying the course, polishing and refining the death/prog mix instead of pursuing one style in earnest. Their last album, Watershed, had some blatantly eccentric moments that signaled an album like Heritage was on the horizon.
It’s an odd record for sure, with a stream of consciousness flow that shucks off most of Opeth’s previous formula, if that’s what you want to call it. There are more songs in more styles, with some new sounds brought in. Listening to the album at Scrape Records on release day, I thought that it sounded like the Änglagård album of Michael Akerfeldt’s dreams, and I still hear a vein of classic Swedish prog deep within. The rocking moments are more isolated, perhaps a little more self-conscious, as with “Slither,” their tribute to Dio-era Rainbow. At the other end of the scale is a song like “Häxprocess,” a drifting, shifting seven-minute fever-dream.
That elusive quality is one of Heritage's best features. It’s not a bunch of long songs with heavy parts alternating with pretty parts. It’s a much more sophisticated mixture, one that unfortunately tasted of shit sandwich to many of their fans, judging by the bitter comments I've read on Facebook and the many, many long faces on display after their show at the Commodore last year. Oh well. Seeing as my one of my favourite heavy metal bands has finally become one of my favourite progressive rock bands, I will not be joining in the backlash.