Monday, January 24, 2011

A Difficult 2010, 5 to 1

5. Ludicra—The Tenant (Profound Lore)

When I listen to The Tenant, I don't think "Hmm, I have determined that Ludicra has created the ideal blend of black, classic, and progressive metal." No, I'm too busy going, "METALLLL!" I've long considered Ludrica the awkward cousin to Bay-Area bands like Slough Feg and Hammers of Misfortune, but with The Tenant they've broken through and finally got my full attention. They have a lot in common with Enslaved, but this is a much better record than Axioma..., with a spartan, street-level approach and the perfect mix for this type of music: drums and bass up front, vocals howling down from the attic. The songwriting has an organic quality. Riffs and sections don't sound stitched together; instead each epic track flows with beauty and logic. My admiration for this record grows every time I listen to it.

4. Horseback—The Invisible Mountain (Relapse)

I bought this on pretty flimsy pretenses, having given one of my own pretend albums a very similar title (2009's Invisible Mountain Day). Of course the Relapse blurb got my attention as well: "An intensely heavy, psychedelic, post-metallic, kraut-rock journey..." Schwing! This record sucked me in. I can't listen to it in pieces; I gotta have all 38 minutes of this glorious black morass at once. The psychedelic/kraut-rock elements lie in the simple, driving fuzztone bass riffs and intense repetition. Keyboards (sounds like a Rhodes) swirl around the pulse while raspy vocals add menace to the atmosphere. The first three songs build the momentum, climaxing with the stridently melodic title track. The album ends with the 16-minute exhalation "Hatecloud Dissolving into Nothing"; the start-to-finish arc is is where the "journey" part comes in. In other hands, this could have added up to drone boredom. What makes the album transcendent is the powerful drumming. Not only does the kit sound fantastic, but the performance gives the songs dynamics, applying boots to ass with well-placed fills and crashes. Nothing else sounded like this in 2010. Proof that evil has no boundaries.

3. Rotting Christ—Aealo (Season of Mist)

I'd long been kind of/sort of a Rotting Christ fan, but Aealo's passionate, battle-ready approach got me on board last year. It seemed like every record on Century Media between '95 and '97 sounded like this...maybe it was only the Rotting Christ albums. Exotic and intense, it manages to rock in lock-step, mighty 'n' militant.

2. Blood Revolt—Indoctrine (Profound Lore)

I'm almost embarrassed by how many Profound Lore releases made my list this year. I think everyone will admit the label was on fire this year, though. For me, much of the inferno was sparked by this long-promised Irish-Canadian collaboration. Based on the talents involved, Indoctrine promised much, then delivered something unexpectedly dramatic and explosive.

1. UFOMAMMUT—Eve (Supernatural Cat)

One song. One huge song. One huge, heavy song. One huge, heavy, perfect song.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Difficult 2010, 10 to 6

10. Black Breath—Heavy Breathing (Southern Lord)

After their scorching debut EP, I wasn't sure that Black Breath could sustain the energy and interest over a full length. I shouldn't have doubted their abilities, as these Bellingham burnouts take to the album format with ease, with a raft of great punk/metal tunes and a surprise or two (most notably the blackened blues of "Unholy Virgin"). Kurt Ballou records them with the same fat tones as their debut. It's pure rock 'n' roll; so inspiring that yes, I will take them up on that offer to "Spit on the Cross" and then "Eat the Witch." Tasty.

9. Stargazer—A Great Work of Ages (Profound Lore)

Leave it to Profound Lore to unearth a tech-death band with a captivating twist. A Great Work of Ages has a severe, murky atmosphere, while showcasing great songwriting and serious chops (bass shredding abounds). It all works, at both an intellectual and a visceral level. Stargazer take great satisfaction in mucking up the sterile, cookie-cutter prog-metal aesthetic, marching forward with power and stern pride.

8. Agalloch—Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore)

While you can debate whether this is Agalloch's best album, you can't deny that this album brought some interesting new elements to their sound. I think it's their best album from the point of view of start-to-finish flow. I'll remember Marrow of the Spirit for that flow, as well as the darkness that permeates the entire work.

7. Kylesa—Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist)

Kylesa, with their Static Tensions album, was a big discovery in 2009, and Spiral Shadow is a walloping follow-up. I'm willing to toe the party line on it. Yes, I do hear some indie/alternative rock influences in their still-weighty approach—some Sonic Youth here, some Superchunk there. That's not a bad thing, and a perfectly logical direction when a band's starting to craft such tuneful material. Phillip Cope's attention to tones (well-documented on the DVD included with my deluxe edition) makes this the most ear-pleasing album on my list. It almost gives me hope for modern production techniques.

6. Triptykon—Eparistera Daimones (Century Media)

The best thing T. Warrior's done since Into the Pandemonium? Perhaps.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Difficult 2010, 15 to 11

15. Wormrot—Abuse (Earache)

There's good to be found in all genres, and I like to find the best in everything during the course of a year. Wormrot's Abuse is my grind album of 2011. Sometimes I just want to experience pure rage through music, but it must also rock. Wormrot manage this again and again and again.

14. Neil Young—Le Noise (Reprise)

Quite a dark and haunting trip with Neil Young; these deceptively simple tunes performed solo then pushed through Daniel Lanois' filters of studio mystery. His production infests the album with ghosts. Is it a gimmick, an elaborate cloak for run-of-the-mill songs? I don't think so. The murky swirl of murmurs, rumble and thrum create a inviting soundworld, while Neil's voice and amplifier roar with anger and love.

13. Enslaved—Axioma Ethica Odoni (Nuclear Blast)

I thought Vertebrae was just okay. Their live set helped me discover a couple gems on it. Axioma Ethica Odoni (rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) is quite a bit better. In fact, the prevalence of proggy riffs reminds me of their Monumension and Below the Lights-era leaps into the post-BM beyond, making for a welcome reinvigoration of their sound. Only the everything-louder-than-everything-else mix detracts from my listening pleasure. I wish they'd do a stripped-down, live-in-the-studio recording sometime. It would destroy.

12. The Pineapple Thief—Someone Here is Missing (kscope)

We're back to the "best of everything" ethos here. This time we're in the realm of slick, mainstreamy semi-prog rock, and The Pineapple Thief. I'm glad I finally caught up with this band. They're quality.

11. Slough Feg—The Animal Spirits (Profound Lore)

You can't really go wrong with Slough Feg. Seeing them live in Vancouver was one of the highlights of the year. I'm sure they played a couple tracks from this album, but I'll be buggered if I can remember which ones. There's a great fistful of bangable songs here, from "Trick the Vicar" to "Materia Prima" (where Southern rock trades shots & pints with the NWOBHM) to "Free Market Barbarian" (a truly masterful hard rock song). If the album dips in the middle it's okay because they take it home with an Alan Parsons Project cover ("The Tell-Tale Heart") and the frantic "Tactical Air War." Brawn, brains, great tunes, and twin leads out the yin-yang—that's our Slough Feg.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Difficult 2010, 20 to 16

Here we go with my top 20...

20. Nachtmystium—Addicts: Black Meddle Pt. II (Century Media)

Based on Nachtmystium's ability to get purists all riled up, I sprung for the new album, only to be disappointed by the lack of anything truly radical. Remember 1997 and the Weirding of Norway? La Masquerade Infernale and Neonism represent the kind of stretch I'd like to hear Blake Judd make in the realm of NWOUSBM. If I shake off those hopes and expectations, I'll admit this is a pretty good rock album. The title track sounds like a charred BÖC (Black Oyster Cult?), although it's marred by a halfhearted ending. Other bits I like are the denouement of “Every Last Drop,” the tambourine on "Nightfall," and "No Funeral," with its Cars synth line. Those are moments when I go, "that’s cool, that’s somewhat brave." But there's a weird, unband-like vibe to it...maybe it's the direct-injection guitar tone (whether that's the method they used or not, that's what it sounds like). At least I can tell the songs apart, which is no small victory for me at this stage!

19. High on Fire—Snakes for the Divine (E1)

Blessed Black Wings made me a High on Fire fan. Death Is This Communion did a great job of building on its predecessor's relentless attack, adding some heaviness and perfecting the trio's chemistry. This new one rocks hard, but it doesn't take things over the top. "Bastard Samurai" and "How Dark We Pray" stand out as deep cuts that sustain the album after the opening duo of the title track and "Frost Hammer" kick things off with everything set at an unsustainable 11. High On Fire are one of the hardest working bands around; if it's possible to make a living playing metal these days, I hope they find a way to thrive.

18. Mares of Thrace—The Moulting (Arctopus)

I gotta say, Mares of Thrace didn't misrepresent themselves on their debut album. This is a raw, jolting record, sometimes almost too strict in its adherence to the single guitar/voice/drums format. I took this home after seeing them live, and yep, this kind of howling noise rock is what they're all about. If I had one wish, it'd be that they'd recorded these songs after honing them on their epic summer tour. As it stands, the album has some jagged edges that at least add an excitement you won't hear on 99% of records these days.

17. Algernon—Ghost Surveillance (Cuneiform)

Algernon are a crack outfit from Chicago who play a suitably spectral style of post-rock/prog on Ghost Surveillance. These instrumentals are based on strong rhythmic ideas, rich-sounding synths, and plenty of tuned percussion (vibraphone and glockenspiel). Great stuff that gets catchier every time I listen to it. Recommended if you like Tortoise; Ghost Surveillance makes a more stern, stately companion to Beacons of Ancestorship.

16. Worm Ouroboros—s/t (Profound Lore)

This album sounds like water to me—it surges, bubbles, and seeps into the corners of the patient listener's mind.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Difficult 2010 (Part II)

As I said, I was operating at reduced capacity last year, so I've decided to do a top 20 of albums that I really honestly listened to a lot. I think I did 25 last year. The countdown will begin soon, but meanwhile, here are my honourable mentions for 2010—great albums that I didn't give enough attention to, or albums that simply landed outside of my top 20, but were otherwise so honourable that I had to mention them.

Blood Cult—We Are the Cult of the Plains (Moribund)
I have to thank Kyle Harcott's hellbound review for turning me on to this grimy work of black-rocking madness. Imagine new-school Darkthrone and Sigh shacking up in a trailer park, and you're close to capturing Blood Cult's drunken, eccentric mayhem. The wild guitar solos are a bonus.

Nels Cline Singers—Initiate (Cryptogramophone)

Atheist—Jupiter (Season of Mist)

Cathedral—The Guessing Game (Nuclear Blast)
Cathedral’s double album might as well have been titled Daft Side of the Loon. Draped in wonky Mellotron and sporting songs filled with surprising turns, Dorrian, Jennings and co. sound like they’re more enamoured of their Spring and Gracious LPs than any of their peers in the current doom scene. I support this kind of thing, although Dorrian sounds a little weary and a couple tracks could have been left locked up in the attic with all the other mad aunties. They still cough up some great songs in “Painting in the Dark” and “La Noche Del Buque Maldito (Aka Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead)”.

Grinderman—Grinderman 2 (Anti)
Nick Cave and his Grindermen are loud 'n' lusty, pounding out raw rockers like a paunchy, well-read JSBX. I didn't pick up their first album; this follow-up sounded like the one to get. Coming in the wake of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, Grinderman 2 makes sense. It's a good time, and "Palaces of Montezuma" is downright tender and heartfelt.

District 97—Hybrid Child (Laser’s Edge)

Emeralds—Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)
I got this at Soundscapes in Toronto, fittingly enough. Synths and guitars fight it out for space-rock supremacy. Emeralds keep the tracks short and melodic; aimless doodling this is not.

Moon Duo—Escape (Woodsist)
Super cool space/trance/kraut jams from Erik Johnson (Wooden Shjips) and Sanae Yamada, carving canyons o' sound with organ, guitar, and drum machine. This is one of those records where you might say, "I can do that," but you totally can't.

Monday, January 03, 2011

A Difficult 2010 (Part I)

Happy new year to anyone who chanced upon this blog over the last 12 months. I wouldn’t induct 2010 into Life's Hall of Fame. It was a little too hair-raising for that, what with employment uncertainty and sudden family-related life adjustments. My music acquiring and listening habits were affected, but I learned something in the process. I’m not one of those people for whom music is a release from everyday problems. Looking at my massive collection of tunes doesn’t get me through those tough times, man. It’s not balm for my troubled soul. Enjoying music is like making rock candy. I can't get the desired results unless there’s a little seed of contentment to cling to; then the enjoyment can flourish and grow. I really need to be secure and grounded to appreciate music in my usual way. Here’s to a secure and grounded 2011.

Let’s start with a list of my top shows from 2010. The Rickshaw Theatre really came into its own as Vancouver’s metal hub last year, though I worry that its fittings are going to be battered and broken before the venue has had a chance to accumulate some real folklore and atmosphere. I don’t think I set foot in the Commodore once.

1. Katatonia/Swallow the Sun/Orphaned Land (September 22, Rickshaw Theatre)
I didn’t review this show originally because I was stumped by how exactly to communicate the majesty of Katatonia. They dominated. I just stood there the whole time thinking, “This is one of the greatest rock bands I’ve ever seen!” and “I love this song… I love this song too… Oh, man, ‘My Twin’! I love this song too!” It was like being at a Guided By Voices gig, blindsided by each entry in the set list.

2. Slough Feg/Funeral Circle (May 29, Red Room)

3. Kylesa/Baptists/Haggatha (December 2, Media Club)

4. Enslaved/Blood Red Throne (November 21, Rickshaw Theatre)

5. Cynic/Intronaut/Dysrhythmia (July 26 at The Venue)

6. Woods of Ypres (June 26, Biltmore Cabaret)

7. Mares of Thrace (August 12, Casbah Lounge, Hamilton and August 21 at the Secret Location, Vancouver)
I like going to shows when I travel. On our annual family trip to Ontario I managed to catch two: good-time Canuck thrashers Fatality at the El Mocambo and Mares of Thrace in Hamilton. The Casbah Lounge is a tiny room with a stage to match. Even though Mares are a two-piece, guitarist G. Thérèse Lanz still had to set up on the floor. The crowd was small but immensely keen (not to name drop, but Sean, Laura, Adam and Jonathan from were there, as was Chris Bruni), and MoT put on a fierce show. Afterwards, we immediately inquired where we could see them in Vancouver, and, after I assured her that I wasn't a cop, Ms. Lanz sent along details on the Secret Location. The Vancouver show was another good one, with openers Hoopsnake impressing me, and MoT delivering their angular sludge to a more crowded room. When the band got going, all I could see was GTL's pigtail whipping back and forth as she and Stefani unleashed chaos. Again, again!

8. Red Sparrowes (April 30 at The Biltmore)

9. High on Fire (February 10 at The Biltmore)
Not my favourite High on Fire experience. It was cheap (underwritten by Volcom), packed, and sweaty and I couldn't see a thing. I'll always remember this show as the first time I heard "Bastard Samurai"—one of the coolest songs of 2010 from the soon-to-be-released Snakes For the Divine.