Unflushable Records of the Decade
Highlights from the turd-bulent 10s.
Given how easy it’s become to listen to tons of new music every day, it’s no wonder that a lot of it eventually disappears down the drain, never to be heard again. Still, there are those particularly persistent floaters that seem to survive every flush. As we set off into a new decade, we wanted to honour records from the last ten years whose smell still lingers. Join us for some nostalgia, anecdotes, and of course, gross over-analysis, and drop your own favourite grunts from the era in the comments.
Dan Terminus – The Wrath of Code (2015)
I consider The Wrath of Code by Dan Terminus to be a milestone for myself. Kelsey Mammoth-Rider shared it on the TovH Facebook group a few years ago and it absolutely blew me away. Despite being in the group and following the website, I hadn’t really gravitated toward any of the music being shared until that one. Since then, I’ve found plenty of metal that I’ve come to appreciate.
At the time, I was coming from a place where mainstream rock and metal that I grew up with weren’t doing anything for me anymore and EDM was becoming a bigger thing in my life. The Wrath of Code showed me how a combination of those things could sound in a well-executed way. My first listen was absolutely spine-tingling in the best way and re-invigorated my love of both metal and EDM.
Cormorant – Dwellings (2011)
My favorite albums tend to be growers rather than showers; in the case of Cormorant’s Dwellings, the gestation period was about two years. From its release in 2011, I constantly flirted with their strange new sound, so different from the genre-hopping excellence that was their debut LP, Metazoa. The largest obstacle to acceptance was the new vocal style from Arthur Von Nagel, who switched from a standard set of extreme metal growls and shrieks to a sort of phlegmy…thing. To make a long story short(er), something kept calling to me despite my reluctance, and when it finally clicked, I fell from the sky hard enough to leave quite an impact crater.
Dwellings sounded so odd at first because it’s nearly impossible to nail down the genre during any given moment. From the pensive (yet simultaneously aggressive) tremolo riffs in “The First Man” to the haunted Western folktale of “A Howling Dust,” I rarely knew how to categorize what I was hearing. Horror-folkened post-doom? No, trying to pigeonhole these birds would quickly lead to even sillier names than I just wrote (or an aneurysm). What once seemed like an amorphous blob of influences had bloomed into a microcosm, a vibrant world where the barriers between myth and reality ceased to exist. I’m going to go out on a wing here and call Cormorant “story metal.”
Triumph, deep introspection and despair. A feral warlord, a tightrope-walker, the slow-motion death of the world’s first astronaut. This wide breadth of subject matter, in combination with the poetic lyrics (that quite frankly put 99% of all metal to shame) transforms news clippings and historical events into moments that live in the present with each listen. From harrowing blastbeats to restrained leads, the music matches the tales being told so closely that it feels like a multimedia experience—like you’re seeing with your ears.
And Cormorant cares about our ears. The production on Dwellings is a clinic, no question. Brennan Kunkel (one of metal’s most underappreciated drummers) double-handedly (?) redefined what I listen for on an album. (Yes, this is the album that turned me into a drum snob. Don’t blame me, blame the band.) Every instrument stretches its legs, you can smell the salt of a sea-breeze in the calm moments, and when they want to, the band closes in around the listener like the leaden walls of a coffin.
Did I mention Cormorant is 100% DIY? Did I also mention that Dwellings is NYP on Bandcamp (along with most of their other music)?
Ok, tongue-bath over. Carry on!
Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (2016)
This honestly was a head-to-head with Alcest‘s Kodama, but in the end Mariner won out. Why? I’m not really sure, but I suppose it has to do with my personal affinity to science fiction and, more importantly, the unknowns and mysteries of space. Space is not a new theme for metal, but—aside from maybe some efforts by Progenie Terrestre Pura, who take a different approach—no record really hit the thematic spot for me. Exploration and wonderment. Human struggle and loneliness. And the resulting melancholy in light of the inconceivable expanse.
“Onward, forward. Like the old seafarers, we explored the vastness of space. Not bound by physical laws we pass the speed of light and chase the expansion of space until we reach its limit. And then, we continued on and disappeared. This is our story.” —from the band’s notes in the inner sleeve of the record.
As with many Cult of Luna records, this one is another concept album and after exploring rural (Somewhere Along The Highway) and urban (Vertikal) themes, they decided to undertake a journey into the unknowns of space. The band teams up with vocalist Julie Christmas, who provides a wonderful contrast to the voices of Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg and really comes into her own on tracks like “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” and “Cygnus.” Talk about a crescendo ending to an already wonderful record. The instrumentation, with its slow guitar and liberal use of bass, is wonderfully atmospheric and evokes a unique aura, which is the reason the record turned out to be so memorable to me.
Goof Authority Esq.
Aborted – Retrogore (2016)
What? Thats not enough? Fine… What’s not to like here? They’ve got the campy 80s horror movie aesthetic, absolutely monstrous riffs, super tight solos, and fantastic dynamics. You’re left feeling pummeled, yet somehow, the songs don’t blend right into each other. This album was the culmination of 18 years of brutal development in a flesh cocoon into a rotten, corpse-scented death moth, hellbent on destruction.
Previous albums were always good, but never great. With a rather extensive history of lineup changes (the only constant member being the vocalist, Sven de Caluwé) they’ve run quite the gauntlet of different sounds. Albums like Strychnine.213 come off like a different band altogether. With this particlar iteration of Ian Jekelis on guitar and JB van der Wal on bass (replaced by Stefano Franceschini shortly after the album’s release), something here finally clicked, resulting in arguably one of the best death metal albums of the decade. I’d been drooling over these guys for years and it felt great to finally have justification for the closet full of Aborted merch (lets face it, they’ve had some of the sickest merch in the game for a while now). It should not be understated that their live presence is absolutely phenomenal as well. Some friends and myself drove 8 hours just to see these guys and were treated to an absolutely crushing performance. What we’ve got here is what I would consider an extremely accessible, yet heavy AF album. If you like death metal, chances are you like this.
Dunsmuir – Dunsmuir (2016)
Dunsmuir is a record I spin at least every other month, but as is often the case with albums that unfold great staying power, it was anything but a bombshell at first. I didn’t get why everyone was so excited after Boss’ admittedly awesome review, but was soon blown away by the opening triumvirate of songs and eventually able to appreciate the whole album. Ever since then, I’ve been utterly enchanted by this rare melding of the minds, with high-caliber musicians pouring their heart’s blood into a one-off project (I think, although Metal Archives stokes the flame of vain hope by listing them as “active”) to produce something as close to perfect as it can be (then again, judging by how effortless it sounds, maybe they shat this out in one afternoon—maybe they’re just that damn good).
Most prominent among the cast are Neil Fallon of Clutch and Vinnie Appice of Black Sabbath et al. The latter’s drumming mirrors the way the whole album snuck up on me—not an attention grabber, but on closer inspection, revealing a ton of character. Topped off with minor flourishes, the fist-pumping grooves and impeccable fills provide a rock-solid (haha) foundation for the rest of the band. On top of their performance, Fallon lays his incredible lyrics in his inimitable style, telling the story of an ill-fated expedition and their exploits: their woes at sea (the aforementioned opening songs), their arrival in a strange land (“What Manner of Bliss”), the inevitable clashes with the indigenous people (“Orb of Empire” and “Church of the Tooth” seemingly written from the perspective of colonizer and colonized, respectively), and the culminating calamity (“Crawling Chaos!”), all with a Lovecraftian undercurrent of supernatural phenomena and madness. Together, music and lyrics make a package that I can put on anytime and in the company of nearly anyone (it’s normie compatible!) to lift my spirits and put me in awe.
Power Trip – Manifest Decimation (2013)
When I was a freshman, working at my college radio station WSOU, I would often hang with the host of Hardcore Reality. “Mad” Matt was a great guy and gave me a good grounding in the hardcore scene. One night he played “Hammer of Doubt” off of Manifest Decimation. At this point Power Trip was still playing mostly basement shows and American Legion halls. From the opening sample from the movie Blood Simple and the song’s first riff I was instantly hooked. From that moment on I became a Power Trip fan and determined to explore the underground metal and hardcore scenes.
Black Metal Porkins
Vanishing Kids – Heavy Dreamer (2018)
When I was but a young pork, I used to ride around with my dad listening to classic rock on the radio. Whether it was an old Datsun Z or when he was forced to embrace fatherhood with a Ford Aerostar, the dulcet tones of a bygone era formed the base of my music preferences and built the foundation upon which a great metal house would be built. The moment I pressed play on this Vanishing Kids record, I was transported.
The seatbelt was high against the side of my jaw. The rough suspension of the Datsun felt every pebble on the road. Nostalgia played loud through the sound system. I was awash in reverb-soaked psychedelia, the organ-heavy stylings of the Doors, the transcendentally weightless ethic of Pink Floyd, the prodigious fretwork of Jimi Hendrix. But it wasn’t all backward-looking. Vanishing Kids also dipped into the updated fuzz sounds of stoner doom, creative pedal combinations of shoegaze, and a masterful modern production. Each track is impeccably crafted with an eye on tension ebbing and flowing and attention to the smallest details of phrasing. It feels at once controlled and free, a hazy opium cloud transformed into soundwaves to ricochet through space. Few records in my life have touched me so personally. I want the song “Heavy Dreamer” played at my funeral to set my spirit free from its husk. Maybe it will set yours free, too.
Leviathan – Scar Sighted (2015)
I could not have predicted that Scar Sighted would become my favorite album of the decade because previous Leviathan albums, while good, were at best only half as good. This thing comes out of nowhere, with no obvious precedent or progenitors, and proceeds to wipe the floor with the entire fucking black metal genre. In tone and color it is sneakily post-black, and yet it generally pays no respect to stylish post-black tropes that are sure to win awards.
As gorgeous and plush and gushingly sad as it is, it is also ugly and nasty and difficult. It contains layers within layers that will likely transfix me unto my deathbed, and yet the production is such a hot mess that few listeners will be prone to keep digging. The vocals are beyond deranged—like an echo-heavy recording of someone having their teeth pulled sans anesthesia. The drums are bursting with emotion and innovation: Just check out those sections where Wrest reconfigures the classic blastbeat into a bluesy syncopated shuffle. Every track is distinct, very few seconds of recording time are wasted, and the album as a whole is a massive attack on everything we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that black metal—or any extreme metal genre—can do. Send me off to the gulag with only Scar Sighted for comfort and I’ll die pissing pumpkin-spice frosting into the green Siberian night.
Iron Goddess of Mercy
Rwake – Rest (2011)
Even when a young Rwake gleefully celebrated the deaths of believers (“The War Against Christians”) or used Bible pages as rolling paper (“The Stoner Tree”), a miasma of erudition hung over the Little Rock sestet. Never lacking for heaviness in comparison to their peers and early career labelmates such as Leechmilk, Hawg Jaw, Sofa King Killer, Beaten Back to Pure, and Maxmillion, Rwake buttressed their southern-fried filth with torturous atmosphere, deranged psychedelia, and startlingly graceful guitar work. By 2004’s If You Walk Before You Crawl, You Crawl Before You Die, Rwake had shed much of the juvenilia of their earliest releases and established themselves as the stoned philosophers par excellence. They followed what many consider to be their magnum opus with Voice of Omens (2007), another record infatuated with grief Biblical exegesis, and one that saw the band incorporating a wider range of instruments to produce more dynamically their trademark melancholia.
Rwake’s Rest, their fifth proper full-length and only full-length release of the decade, stretched the boundaries of their sound, tilting it into an almost limitless expansiveness. Movements build and build and achingly build, only to give way into debilitating yet lustrous chasms of hopelessness. Feverish solos and guitar harmonies wend and weft their way throughout the record, leaving the listener dizzy and nearly faint. Rwake’s backwoods ire, never subtle and always sweeping, is the most introspective of the band’s entire career. Perhaps this is why a record as heavy as Rest feels less sonically so and more emotionally so. “The tunneling force was just me,” C.T. discovers on the album’s stand-out track “Was Only a Dream.”
Rest finds a band who once waged a war against religion grappling with what spirituality—in its most earthen and non-deistic forms—might mean for malcontents of the swamp. What has always been so striking about Rwake is the considerable delicacy of their music; they have never resisted the shimmering or the elegant. In the past, however, Rwake often sublimated these moments to the more conventional bluesy rowdiness of the genre. On Rest, Rwake relents fully and finally to the shuddering beauty of the cosmos.