ToH Writers Best of 2K15: Hessian Hunter, MoshOff, and Nordling Rites ov Karhu
We’ve almost reached the end! Prepare your bodies for the top picks from Pumpkin Baby, Mosh Engineer, and Bear Hybrid. Be sure to check out stuff you don’t recognize, ya dig?
10. Uranium Club – Human Exploration | Independent
If you like Devo, you are already excited I am bringing them up as a reference point. If you don’t like Devo, you are wrong. Like the aforementioned masters of weirdo 80’s synth punk, The Minneapolis Uranium Club Band are as brilliant as they are disillusioned. Every song is a story, profound in its banality and ruthless in its cultural dissection. Every riff is a tamed lion, staring from across the room in a way that promises menace but leaves you to suffer in anticipation. What a gloriously Midwestern take on punk rock.
Listen to — “Black Semen”
9. Deafheaven – New Bermuda | Anti-
Deafheaven are ahead of the curve yet again on New Bermuda, eschewing the overcrowded shoegaze resurgence and embracing 90’s alt rock melodies as a foil to ripping, thrashing, thoroughly unhip black metal. This record vastly exceeded my expectations and is all the evidence I need that Deafheaven will continue be a boundary-killing force in the post-everything musical world of the coming decade.
Listen to — “Come Back”
8. KEN Mode – Success | Season of Mist
On Success, KEN Mode show all the kids what it means to get fucking noisy like you mean it. The symbiotic irony and pain expressed in Jesse Matthewson’s new vocal style is exactly what KEN Mode needed to make them the singular band they always hinted they could be.
Listen to — “These Tight Jeans”
7. Mrs. – City | Independent
“Mrs. is a post-punk band for the cool freaks to boogie to all night long. Their style is rooted in the weirdo noise rock championed by Amphetamine Reptile back in the day; stanky krautrock guitar riffs lay the foundation for curious drum grooves and abrasively flamboyant singing”. Full review here.
Listen to — “City”
6. Timbre – Sun and Moon | Independent
Nashville’s most bewitching chamber pop harpist/soprano returns with her most ambitious project to date. “Although it is a stupendous commitment by 2015 standards, listening to this double record through as a complete work rewards the listener with repeated motifs and a complex range of emotion. Timbre has moved from finding hope in the austere to finding pain in the magnificient, and in the process she has created a tremendously rich work that reminds us that adoration of the past mustn’t be dogmatic to be genuine, nor must it be regressive when applied to modern forms of expression.” Full review here.
Listen to — “Chicago Pier”
5. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction | Metal Blade
Remember that time a vocalist was the most expressive and impressive musician in a death metal band? Remember the time everyone else in the band stepped up their game considerably to embrace the best elements of both hairpin-turn grindcore and massive death metal? As far as I’m concerned, this current incarnation of this long-running band is the “classic” lineup, setting new standards for extreme metal at every turn.
Listen to — “Manufactured Extinct”
4. Napalm Death – Apex Predator — Easy Meat | Century Media
I am ecstatic about the trend of extreme metal/hardcore vocalists expanding their pallet beyond “highs” and “lows”. I am also ecstatic about the rock ‘n’ roll influence that has crept into Napalm Death’s vocabulary in this decade. I hope this band makes albums until they are geriatric coots and that they will sound as fresh in 2040 as they did in 1981, and still do in 2015.
Listen to — “Easy Meat”
3. Leprous – The Congregation | Inside Out Music
When I finally listened to this release that every press outlet in the metal blogosphere was telling me was apparently the second coming of the ChristProg, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The riffs, and compositions, the ACTUAL GREAT SINGING. This album was the soundtrack to me involuntarily punching the air in traffic while riding my bicycle to work for about two straight weeks. If the fierce opening to “Third Law” is the soundtrack to bareknuckle boxing a pack of rabid grizzly bears, the majestic chorus is the victory chant sung from on top of their mangled carcasses.
Listen to — “Third Law”
2. Failure – The Heart is a Monster | Failure Records
“The Heart Is A Monster is a fabulous, timeless rock album that I am certain will still sound fresh in twenty years’ time, just as Failure’s previous efforts have done. In a time where ’90s worship is at a fever pitch, the masters have come back to show us all how it’s done. Take notes, kids.” Full review here.
Listen to — “A.M. Amnesia”
1. Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers | Willowtip
Blessed Be My Brothers is overwhelming, haunting, brutal, and psychedelic in ways I never thought possible in the realm of death metal. The key ingredient is the reverb-drenched lead guitar tone that reeks of both ruthless oppression and hopeless despair – they are the voice of a bitter, jealous god promising treasures in the afterlife while taking everything from the living. Full review here.
Listen to — “By Virtuous Reclamation”
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss | Sargent House | Listen to — “Carrion Flowers”
G.L.O.S.S. – Demo | Independent | Listen to — “G.L.O.S.S. (We’re From the Future)”
Naive Sense – Art Failures | Independent | Listen to — “Vices”
10. Parasitic Ejaculation – Echoes of Depravity | Amputated Vein Records
“Who got all this FUN in my DEATH METAL?!?!!?” -Person who hates fun and Parasitic Ejaculation. This album is a lesson in all that is highly entertaining (although not really mentally enriching) about the bastardization of extreme music that is slam. Pingy snare, stringy bass, undecipherable pig-squealish vocals and breakdowns. So many breakdowns. I dream about this record’s breakdowns, like a lot. This album also has a swing slam. Let me say that again: A SWING SLAM. As in, a slam that swings. It is the most brilliantly ignorant thing I have heard in a while, and for that I thank these fine fellows and have them inaugurate my list.
9. Khemmis – Absolution | 20 Buck Spin
I like more traditional Doom. I also like “newer”, more distorted and stoner-ized Doom. Khemmis meld both of these branches to come up with something that works surprisingly well when put into practice: fuzz and bass-heavy stoner sonics combined with the dreadful overtones provided by crystal-clear, more melodic vocals. And of course, riffs. Riffs and riffs and riffs for days, I tell ya. This record is as long as it is surprisingly varied, as much as you can be without surpassing a certain BPM (obviously). For such a relatively young band to release such a quality debut is worthy of much praise; think Pallbearer, but with stronger melodies and less repetition.
8. Blaze of Perdition – Near Death Revelations | Agonia Records
In my honest and not-at-all well informed opinion. Blackened Death Metal can be extremely difficult to pull off without being labelled as just another Behemoth clone, especially if you’re from Poland. Blaze of Perdition manage just that, by combining aspects of black metal with production values that make it sound like it wasn’t recorded in a forest with no electricity. The drumming on this album is really top-notch, and the rest of the instruments don’t just stand around either. What draws me to this album more than others is the fact that every element is clearly distinguishable, yet blended enough to lend it an air of melodic atmosphere that really adds to the experience.
7. Arkaik – Lucid Dawn | Unique Leader Records
Ever get the feeling that certain albums get overlooked by virtually everyone for no apparent reason? Arkaik seem to be the latest case in this truly baffling phenomena. They’ve released what is hands down the greatest Tech-Death album of the year, and I haven’t heard virtually anyone talking about it. Fast and memorable riffs galore, drumming that compliments said riffs, vocal patterns that fit right where they should and a bass that makes me fail at words, all wrapped up in production values that are juuuuuuuuuust right. Why is nobody paying attention to this???!?
6. Mutoid Man – Bleeder | Sargent House
Mutoid Man is what happens when you lock Bluesy Hard Rock and Progressive/Mathy Hardcore in a room and make them listen to a bit of Sludge. Infectious riffs intertwine with simple, yet effective vocal lines and concise-but-spastic drumming (courtesy of a madman that goes by Ben Koller) to pound the listener’s unprepared earholes with pleasurable doses of intense but sweet rock’n’roll-esque stoner punkness. It’s the type of amalgamation that sounds horrendous on paper but ends up working really well when put in the hands of talented artists that know how to blend several supposedly unrelated genres without winding up a serious case of reflux.
5. SikTh – Opacities | Peaceville Records
A late addition to the slew of this year’s releases that almost got lost in the shuffle, SikTh‘s long-awaited return comes during a time when the market is so oversaturated with the Djent sound they helped create a decade ago that it’s not an easy task for a release in that style to shine through the abundant mediocrity. Despite having been out for less than a week, I feel like I’ve known this album for an extremely long time. And that’s the thing: much like with Carcass‘ reunion album, all of these extremely well put-together songs feel simultaneously new and old, strange and familiar, set in their ways but refreshing. It’s everything I wanted from a SikTh release, like their time spent on hiatus was to preserve their mezmerizing powers of technicallity and groove and nothing else. Welcome back, boys.
4. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. | Kscope
Writing this review in an at least semi-objective manner is going to be somewhat of a challenge. The great and untouchable Steven Wilson has done so much to please me musically in the past few years it’s a wonder I haven’t proposed to him yet (these things take me a while, I think I’m almost ready!). At any rate, his latest solo effort, boasting an all-star cast of session players as his backing band, hits the sweet spot between nerdy prog stuff, ambient electronic thingies and high-intensity metal happenings. This album has the best dynamics of anything else I’ve heard this year, but they’re used to work with the songs instead of just for show or to be all “look at how dynamic my computer says this is”. Shut up dork, and put your ears to the best use you can with Hand. Cannot. Erase.
3. Fulgora – Stratagem | Housecore Records
I’ll admit that when I first heard of Fulgora I was excited at the potentential held by a lineup that’s somewhat of a death/grind dork’s wet dream, but I was cautious not to set my expectations too high. I actually kind of ignored this album until a couple of months ago, and I seriously regret it. I’m not entirely sure of the correlation that Adam Jarvis has with making extremely good (gym) music, but Stratagem is nothing but chock full of hardcore-infused, blasty, groovy, tremolo-picky, jagged-riffy goodness that at times makes me think “this is what Rage Against the Machine would sound like if they played Death Metal”. BACK TO THE SQUAT RACK
2. Entheos – Primal | Independent
Speaking of groovy death stuff, Entheos are in the house! I’d never had a clear mental image of what “Modern” DM was… until I heard this EP. “You included an EP in your Top Albums list, you poser?” Yes I did, because it’s that great. This isn’t any type of “old school” Death Metal, but it isn’t quite Deathcore or Tech-Death either, it’s… something that’s actually really hard to categorize. Rarely is the bass the (almost) main attraction in any sort of music, but based Evan Brewer makes a point to turn this into a more regular thing, because DAMN DAT BASS. Anyway, these four songs are better than almost everything released in the genre this year and everyone should be taking notes and keeping tabs on this band.
1. The Agonist – Eye of Providence | Century Media Records
I feel like there’s not a lot I can say about this album after ten months without a truly worthy adversary in my mind, but I’ll try anyway. The Agonist have conjured an album that’s equal parts catchy, technical, melodic, heavy, uplifting, sorrowful and anything else that you might be able to imagine in between. The band has come a long way from the place they started out at, and have become true masters of the craft of writing good songs that are even better when put together and only improve with each additional listen. Eye of Providence is the perfect example of something that’s executed so flawlessly that by the time you realize there’s nothing truly groundbreaking to be found within, you’re already hooked and wanting more.
Nordling Rites ov Karhu
10. The Man-Eating Tree – In The Absence of Light | Ranka Kustannus
Atmospheric rock somewhere between Anathema and mid-era Katatonia. Compared to the earlier albums there is more power and variation, even some growls, behind the vocals and a better balance between the different elements and instruments. The lack of a keyboard-player has given TM-ET’s latest more room to breathe, and the ballads give the otherwise-a-little-samey material enough variation. It relies rather strictly on atmosphere, and there’s not much in the way of mournful leads – the songs were written to stand on other legs. It is one of the best fall albums in a long time, along with Exgenesis’ latest (that didn’t make this list because it is an EP).
Listen to – “Breathe Emptiness”
9. Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection | Season of Mist
I enjoy music that, as a listener, challenges me. I enjoy music that takes time to sink in. Hell, I enjoy music that takes its time getting from A to B. But when it comes to black metal, me enjoying “no fucks given” the most, is no rare sight. This album is no fucks given incarnate. It’s also damn good; it’s everything Teitanblood couldn’t offer me last year and everything they should have. Yet one does not sound like the other (like you should know), but one does have the same aim. One does decimate.
“It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”
Listen to- “Behold.Total.Rejection”
8. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields | Season of Mist
Many things have already been said about this excellent funeral doom release, by me and by Simon Phoenix. New vocalist Henri Koivula is their best yet with a deep growl and somber cleans backed (and at times, led) up by Natalie Koskinen’s ethereal performance – I still think her talent is underused. The band sounds like themselves but at the same time unlike any of their previous efforts. Long gone are the dreamy keyboard paintings, but now gone are the guitar-driven hymns of despair as well. The few apparently loose bolts have been tightened, and the songs haven’t lost one bit of their charm. On the contrary, this melancholy driven but bombastic (thanks to Samu Ruotsalainen’s final(?) performance) might one day be their strongest.
Listen to – “The Distant Dream of Life”
7. Aegrus – Devotion For the Devil | Drakkar Productions
Many good, nay great, albums – such as Mgla or Kroda – didn’t make my list because this here album came out of nowhere. It was not too late (looking at you Yellow Eyes) to make the list, but after (re-)discovering this late to the year, I received a kick to guts I haven’t recovered from. *copy paste 4 first sentences from #9* Aegrus is black metal incarnate, Devotion For the Devil exactly the kind of album one ought to think when thinking of black metal. It’s a coherent whole where the songs never blur together and each has an identity of its own. As is customary for Finnish bands, there’s melody thrown in for some measure and a few sorrowful moments as well. Whatever they’ve set out to do, Aegrus excels at. Whether it be Bathory-like flailing around, the incredible leads of the title song, or the pure untamed fury of “Impaled I.N.R.I”, they more than deliver, never sacrificing coherence or sounding like a sum of their influences.
6. Hooded Menace – Darkness Drips Forth | Relapse Records
I already reviewed this album, so there’s not much more to say, not after things like: “The songs are long, but the tension is kept at high levels throughout – especially on the slower parts – the riffs keep you banging your head and the melodies bury ‘neath your skin where they remain nesting. In other words, every song is filled with memorable hooks without ever compromising what we have learned to know Hooded Menace as.”
Listen to – “Elysium of Dripping Death”
5. Janne Westerlund – Marshlands | Ektro Records
Janne Westerlund may be best known as the frontman/leader-ish of Circle, but for my money this album is better than many others he has made in years. An acoustic mix with bit of americana, a bit of country(!) and a good handful of folk, oh and a cubic buttload of good ol’ depression. In this case the depression-era might be a more fitting point of reference than the mental state of depression. My only grief is that after the murky mood of the album reaches a climax with the droning title track, it doesn’t end. The hopeful “Love Is the Point” isn’t a bad song but a little out of place on an otherwise murky album.
4. Corpo-Mente – Corpo-Mente| Blood Music
Trip folk? Corpo-Mente is/was a French duo (now a band) formed by Gautier Serre (of Igorrr) and Ricïnn (of Öxxö Xööx), and I have honestly never run into another album that sounds the same as their debut. The basis, I suppose, is experimental trip hop with some folk elements in both songwriting and instrumentation – containing hints of Igorrr and the self-proclaimed baroquecore in both production and arrangements. Ricïnn’s vocals remain at a bonerrific height throughout, which is extremely rare for an operatic style and performance. So if you, like I, are excited about the concept of Diamanda Galas doing low-key electro-folk, you’re one step closer to the dream. And have one hell of an album in your hands.
3. Marriages – Salome | Independent
Emma Ruth Rundle finds time to do many things. She has recorded solo albums, is a member of Red Sparowes and leads/fronts a band called Marriages. The latter-most is to me the finest of her work. There is some psychedelic alt. rock with a post-whatever edge. The only thing that matters is that it plays on my heartstrings. I haven’t found words for this album, byt maybe someone else has. Maybe you will. Maybe not.
“You lie, and suffer my name
It’s mine, it’s mine to give or take it
So throw me in that deep black hole of his hell”
2. Tähtiportti – Tähtiportti | Svart Records
I’m not big on electronic music, and the reason I checked out Tähtiportti was Sami Hynninen, I haven’t been sorry for one second that I did. Psychedelic, mostly downbeat techno with a lunatic’s ranting slapped over it, as it turns out, is actually pretty heckin’ great. Tähtiportti takes you on a journey, from comforting darkness through a faint rhythm to utter madness, only to begin again while taking a form (even) more hypnotic towards the end of the album. Surrender to the Abyss.
Listen to – “Tähtiportti IV: Luciferin Pylväs”
1. Swallow The Sun – Songs From the North I, II & III | Century Media
This is the fourth year in a row Mikko Kotamäki appears on my EOTY list (second-in-a-row he’s #1). Even though SFTN is a big package, so to speak, I found myself listening to all three “albums” in one sitting more often than not. Before I had heard it, I reckoned ’twas going to be the funeral doom album that would ensnare me in. I wasn’t wrong; Raivio hasn’t always gone by the book, or where the fence was lowest. There’s variation in the hopeless mass, and even the glimpses of light seem mocking. Yet it is helplessly left in the shade of the first part. After the disappointing EF&tB Swallow the Sun finally reaches the same heights as with their debut. Here, the cleans outweigh the growls and melodies triumph over doom, but the songwriting stands stellar. Lost & Catatonic is probably the earworm of the year! Even the dubious acoustic album, which I feared would only keep the “interludes” from interrupting the flow of the other parts, proved good.
Jute Gyte – Ship of Theseus | Jeshimoth Entertainment | Listen to – “Machinery That Renders Debt Infinite”
Draconian – Sovran | Napalm Records | Listen to – “No Lonelier Star”
Shrapnel Storm – Mother War | Witches Brew | Listen to – “Mother War”