Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tatsumaki: Voivod Japan 2008 DVD

When the final conflagration is extinguished, the only things to survive will be cockroaches and Voivod.
The Tatsumaki DVD demonstrates that Voivod can withstand any calamity and charge into new territory like the Korgull of old. My review is here at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Difficult 2009, 5 to 1

5. Cobalt—Gin (Profound Lore) “This record is a springboard to fuck the universe.” With a statement like that, plus a dedication to Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, Cobalt’s deadly intent is obvious. They pull it off, too, with an approach that mixes black metal with churning, tribal rhythms derived from Neurosis and Tool. Gin is cunning, electrifying, and unnerving. In the building climax to “Two-Thumbed Fist,” instrumentalist Erik Wunder carefully layers speed and chaos until the whole thing threatens to fly apart. Wunder’s music for Cobalt has the organic feel of a great band. Gin’s razor-wire sonics are entwined with vocalist Sgt. Phil McSorley’s experiences in the Middle East. I hear centuries of hate and sudden violence. This, I’m afraid, is World Music.

4. Astra—The Weirding (Rise Above) The prog is dank and dingy, and everything (including the band members, I assume) belches smoke. Review here.

3. Mastodon—Crack the Skye (Reprise) More concept, less filler. Of all the albums I heard this year, I had to jump the biggest chasm from dismay to delight with this one. Review here.

2. Converge—Axe to Fall (Epitaph) Converge are simply a great rock band. They push and pull in all directions over the course of Axe to Fall because they can, and because they’d get bored otherwise. From deathly grind to noise rock to whatever the gothic waltz of “Cruel Bloom” represents, it all sounds utterly true to Converge. You gotta hear these guys play.

1. Napalm Death—Time Waits for No Slave (Century Media) This is how it’s done.
Review here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Difficult 2009, 10 to 6

10. Zombi—Spirit Animal (Relapse) If Steve Moore and A. E. Paterra were a lot older and sexed up their sound with a little more disco, they could have been “big in Germany” just like Saga in the early ’80s. Their music is stern and exacting. I admire the purity of their vision and the quality of their execution. They also offer the simple pleasure of hearing two guys play their asses off. Like SUNN O))), they started with an obvious source of inspiration and moved on to define their own sound. This latest round of planetarium rock is their best yet.

9. Present—Barbaro (ma non troppo) (Ad Hoc) Although the studio half of this CD/DVD release is a bit stingy, the package as a whole is a stunner. Review here.

8. Woods of Ypres—IV: The Green Album (Practical Art) Another compelling heavy metal confessional from Ontario’s “ex-black/now-doom and anything else you want to call it" metallists. Review here.

7. Six Organs of Admittance—RTZ (Drag City) I feel like a cheat including this compilation of old and rare SOoA material, but it did come out last year and it did give me a new perspective on Ben Chasny’s remarkable art. Review here.

6. Yob—The Great Cessation (Profound Lore) Yob’s mighty comeback saw them stripping down and stretching out, feeding off their well-justified anger and crushing everything. Review here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A Difficult 2009, 15 to 11

15. Voivod—Infini (Sonic Unyon) While it's sad that this is the end of the road for Voivod, Infini was a strong record on which to bow out. Katorz was kind of a "proof of concept" release; it must have been an ordeal for the surviving Voivod members to bring Piggy's last riffs to fruition. On Infini the band sounds much more at ease working with their late guitarist's final recordings, and although there are a couple duds, the album as a whole is appreciably better than Katorz.

14. Gates of Slumber—Hymns of Blood and Thunder (Rise Above) Review here.

13. IQ—Frequency (InsideOut) Review here.

12. Led Bib—Sensible Shoes (Cuneiform) My wife zeroed in on this at Dr Disc in Hamilton and told me I should buy it. My wife is a genius. This London jazz-rock quintet have laid down a scorcher of a album—nothing sensible about it. Mixing infectious themes with all-out skronk, it always threatens to blow the roof off the joint.

11. The Decemberists—The Hazards of Love (Capitol) I had to live with this album for a while, but I eventually discovered that The Hazards of Love is start-to-finish great. They ratcheted up the progressive tendencies of The Crane Wife for this concept album/song cycle/rock opera/ whateverthehell. The big riffs and keyboard solos take stabs at Heep/Tull rock majesty, but fall a bit short—they're so polite. I like them as they are, though. I appreciate the intent. The songs stand together well, the reprises fall where they should, and Shara Worden's turn as The Queen is spectacular.

(None of these records make any sense together.)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Difficult 2009, 20 to 16

20. Litmus—Aurora (Rise Above) Space rituals for the information age. Review here.

19. Baroness—The Blue Record (Relapse) I’m not a production Nazi, but the snare sound on The Blue Record drives me nuts. Smack-smack-smack. Baroness are still a brilliant band, and The Blue Record shows them developing their songwriting and guitar harmonies to manic new heights. If Chuck (Stairway to Hell) Eddy is still obsessing over metal/disco fusion, he’d love this—it shakes and grooves like no other metal album this year. If only the backbeat didn’t grate on me so much...

18. Firebird—Grand Union (Rise Above) Bill Steer is still the coolest. Review here.

17. SUNN O)))—Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord) I bought Earth 2 ’round the year punk broke, so I didn’t see much point in getting into SUNN O))) when they droned to life in 1999. The press for Monoliths and Dimensions was so persuasive, however, that I went for it the day it was released. While I can take or leave Attila Csihar’s contributions, “Big Church,” with its choir arrangements (inspired by guest guitarist Dylan Carlson of Earth), and the majestically orchestrated “Alice” took drone to new and ingenious realms. The latter was one of the best pieces of music I heard all year.

16. Sonic Youth—The Eternal (Matador) A similar case to Clutch here: a band with a string of great albums through the 2000s (Murray Street especially), switching labels (retreating from Geffen to Matador), and dropping a non-core member (Jim O’Rourke, replaced by Mark Ibold). Like Clutch, Sonic Youth just did their thing in 2009. The Eternal took a while to warm up to, but I couldn't help but feel at home with those familiar Moore/Ranaldo guitar conversations and songs like “Antenna” and Ranaldo’s kick-ass “What We Know” that rang with confidence and artistry. Funny; I won’t run out for Rush or Neil Young every time, but I’ll do it for Sonic Youth, and never regret it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Difficult 2009, 25 to 21

25. Shrinebuilder—s/t (Neurot) The advance word on the Shrinebuilder sessions (almost a year ago this week!) was that something really special had gone down between Crover, Wino, Cisneros and Kelly. The hype turns out to be reality, as Shrinebuilder delivers a perfect blend of all the participants’ bands. Sounds like everybody brought riffs to the table and put some serious thought into piecing them together. This was the holy mountain for stoner/doom fans this year.

24. Makajodama—s/t (Laser’s Edge) The archetypal “stunning debut” from this Swedish instrumental outfit that bridges Canterbury and Krautrock and post-rock (an increasingly useless label that I’m beginning to despise), creating a tasteful-yet-rambunctious sound that time travels somewhere between 1969 and 2009.

23. Clutch—Strange Cousins from the West (Weathermaker) After releasing a raft of killer albums last decade, Clutch were rewarded by having their record company go tits up. Clutch still have a full tank of gas, though. They dropped the keyboards that threatened to turn them into a jam band, especially in a live setting. Strange Cousins... is back to basics while still honing that heavy blues style they’ve pursued since Blast Tyrant. “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” should find a place in the set list from here on in.

22. Kylesa—Static Tensions (Prosthetic) Warpig had a number called “Melody With Balls,” which is a daft title (hey, it was 1970), but the phrase sums up the last Kylesa album very well. Review here.

21. Upsilon Acrux—Radian Futura (Cuneiform) I remember seeing (probably in a mid-70s vintage World Book “Science Year” volume) a picture of a web spun by a spider on LSD. That’s how I visualize Upsilon Acrux first. After many listens all the micro-sections start to flow together into a logical whole. It’s still pretty twisted logic, mind you, and I’m sure Radian Futura, with its half-hour centrepiece "Transparent Seas (Radio Edit)," will always be a challenging listen. Someday I’d like to figure it all out, but right now I treasure my job, my 6 to 7 hours of nightly sleep, eating, and being married.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Difficult 2009, Part 1

2009 was full of personal trauma and anxiety, yet in the aftermath of every loss or near-loss, there was a quiet zone where I found more time than ever—or maybe I made more time—to pursue music. As always, music is the best.

One effect of the demise of Unrestrained! magazine was that I dropped off the promo gravy train. My mailbox sighed in relief. A lot of guilt lifted as well. I concentrated on writing about music that I actively sought out, researched, and acquired. Without the expectation of advance promos, I tracked release dates and awaited new albums the way I did in the years before this blog. I had fun just being a fan again.

For my year-end round-up, I’ll borrow Metal Mark’s approach and dole out my top 25 list five at a time. But first, I want to acknowledge ten albums that didn’t make the list for various reasons. They’re all excellent records, but through inattention or other factors they never became a vital part of my life for a significant stretch of the year.

35. Eagle Twin—The Unkindness of Crows (Southern Lord) Difficult jazz/sludge from Gentry Densley of Iceburn and Ascend (whom I covered in 2008). The writing and playing on this album is organic and human, but requires further study. My fault for buying it on vinyl, preventing me from listening to it at work. Throw us a download coupon, Southern Lord.

34. Katatonia—Night is the New Day (Peaceville) I didn’t find this to be the masterwork that Mikael Akerfeldt promised, but more of the same from Katatonia is never bad. The ultimate katatonia album should render me a blubbering mess; Last Fair Deal Gone Down is still the one to set the lower lip quivering.

33. Novembers Doom—Into Night's Requiem Infernal (The End) After the fantastic The Novella Reservoir, this album saw Novembers Doom holding steady with the expected mix of fist-clenching doom and forlorn ballads. Seeing them live in Calgary was a highlight of 2009.

32. Slough Feg—Ape Uprising (Cruz del Sur) I liked this much better than what I’d heard from Hardworlder. In fact it’s a gas, a good old-fashioned party record with surplus wit and style. Unfortunately I didn’t party much this year.

31. The Opium Cartel—Night Blooms (Termo) I regret that i didn’t review this properly, but I missed my window of opportunity when the sun was out this summer and this record’s sparkling pop-prog made perfect sense.

30. OM—God is Good (Drag City) There’s no space like OM. It was high time for OM to branch out a bit, and with new drummer Emil Amos on board, God is Good was the perfect chance. They were partially successful on side two, but my initial rush of discovering OM a couple years ago had worn off, leaving me to think that side one was more of the same old thing.

29. Ancestors—Of Sound Mind (Tee Pee) I’m still trying to figure out if this sprawling doom psych successor to Neptune With Fire has any tunes on it. I’m really pulling for it, though.

28. Six Organs of Admittance—Luminous Night (Drag City) It’s Ben Chasny’s fault for releasing two major Six Organs of Admittance albums this year. The first one, RTZ, grabbed all the attention back in February. This album gets played increasingly often, and its bleak songs are slowly winning me over.

27. Steven Wilson—Insurgentes (kscope) This album made a nice change from Wilson’s increasingly predictable work with Porcupine Tree, but it hasn’t had much staying power after I posted my review.

26. PJ Harvey & John Parish—A Woman a Man Walked By (Island) Finally a follow-up to Dance Hall at Louse Point and again it’s fascinating to hear PJH in collaborative mode, wringing songs of beauty, dark humour, and outright horror from Parish’s prickly guitar constructions.