My Top 15 Albums of 2017


Hi! Still existing and loving my family, hope the same goes for all of you. I may be retired from all else in the music world, but the year end list is eternal.

Sample size: I have 83 albums released in 2017 at the time of writing this. Can’t promise I actually listened to all of them.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Ranking music is silly and I generally discourage it.  (But I do it once a year anyway…….)

15. Chinese Man – Shikantaza

trip hop/hip hop

Sample track: Liar

fun French hip hop/trip hop album that seems to have gotten overlooked a lot. I listened to it a ton earlier this year. It’s not something I’ll remember years down the road, but it certainly earned a spot for as much as I played it.


14. Elder – Reflections of a Floating World

stoner prog

Sample track: Sanctuary

For me personally, this is probably the most unorthodox pick on my list, because it is heavily rock-centric in all the ways that typically turn me off. God but something about rock and roll has always felt absolutely soulless to me in a way that few genres can match at their worst. But Elder just do what they do so damn well that it’s impossible to hate this opus. An endless onslaught of prog ingenuity with a nice stoner rock crunch that keeps it driving from start to finish. It’s 64 straight minutes of ear candy without a dull note in the mix, and I have a world of respect for how flawlessly these guys accomplished what they set out to do.


13. Krallice – Go Be Forgotten

post-black metal

Sample track: This Forest For Which We Have Killed

Krallice are responsible for a lot of the best music to come out this decade, and in 2017 they pumped out two new ones (both painfully late into the year for a band that requires a lot of repetition to fully appreciate). While I haven’t actually read anything about either of these yet, the distinctly different styles between them have me pretty convinced that Mick Barr wrote the bulk of this one and Colin Marston took charge on the other. Go Be Forgotten gets off to a glorious start with its opening track, but the remainder has so far failed to really captivate me to the extent that most of their previous works did. It doesn’t raise the bar (or if it does, it hasn’t sunk in yet), but it’s still a fascinating exploration of highly complex soundscapes that few other artists have the technical precision to delve. And god that opening riff is sick. Krallice will be a perpetual year end contender as long they keep doing what they do.


12. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

folk rock

Sample track: When The God Of Love Returns There’ll Be Hell To Pay

I have mixed feelings about this album, and my inclination is to point out the negative; suffice to say, it’s not lacking in universal praise. It wouldn’t be on my list if I didn’t love it. The reason it’s not higher is that, as I see it, Tillman too often defaults to rather throw-away lines. That’s not inherently problematic (see: my #1 pick), but I think it clashes with the more refined, theatrical vibe of the sound around them. Simple case in point: Total Entertainment Forever kicks off with an absolutely delicious line–Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift–and follows it up with something so generic that I feel it only exists to achieve a rhyme–after mister and the missus finish dinner and the dishes. Sometimes gentle flaws make a work all the more endearing, but Pure Comedy goes too big and refined to get away with it for me. I feel like he aimed extraordinarily high and almost got there.


11. Tchornobog – Tchornobog

blackened death metal

Sample track: II: Hallucinatory Black Breath Of Possession (Mountain-Eye Amalgamation)

A landscape album as only blackened death metal can paint one. Tchornobog takes you on a 64 minute journey across an entirely unpleasant and stomach-turning waste of all purpose ugliness that really reflected how I’ve felt about the world this year any time I let my attention range beyond my immediate household. We’re talking death metal aesthetics here so yes, that can be a compliment. And while the visions are certainly exotic, there’s not much surrealism of the lofty, artistic sort you find on say, a Blut Aus Nord album. It’s just leaves you feeling kind of dirty. It hit a note I could appreciate while maintaining enough melody and progression to avoid succumbing to redundancy.


10. Hell – Hell

doom sludge

Sample track: Machitikos

Ridiculously heavy slow-rolled sludge that shouldn’t require any genre appreciation to crush your skull. At its peek on “Machitikos”, the quality of this album is unreal. Unfortunately I was pretty late to the ballgame, and their more ambient moments are going to take more than a sporadic month to leave a lasting impression or definitively fail to. Nowhere to move but further up the charts for this one.


9. Nokturnal Mortum – Істина

pagan metal

Sample track: Дика Вира

We’ve certainly come a long way from Knjaz Varggoth screaming hateful nonsense to crackling cassette recordings of Dollar General synth, and as endearing as Nokturnal Mortum’s early works may be, you can’t deny that he has matured (both musically and intellectually) substantially over the years. This album thoroughly lacks the trademark Eastern European folk metal execution that Knjaz inspired more than perhaps anyone else: brutally hammered folk jingles lashing out violently from beneath a wall of modern noise. Істина is a lot more even keel, to such an extent that its metal elements almost feel unnecessary at times. It fully embraces the more cerebral, orchestral sound we began to hear on Weltanschauung and leaves most else behind, achieving a new height in terms of orchestration. I do miss Knjaz’s more passionate explosions, but I don’t consider that a flaw. The real down side to the album for me stems from the studio. For all of its grand instrumental diversity, the complete package is a bit washed out. Everything feels like it’s playing in the background as a supporting element to a non-existent centerpiece. It’s something I’m certainly used to–Nokturnal Mortum have always struggled a bit on the finer finishing touches of sound production–but it’s still a fault that’s hard to ignore. An incredibly solid album that could have been even better.


8. Riivaus – Lyoden Taudein Ja Kirouksin

black metal

Sample track: Vihan Temppeli

This is probably the most unknown album on my list. It’s just straight-up black metal. No frills. No novelties. Really it’s the sort of thing I rarely listen to these days, because most great bm artists have moved on to more experimental fronts. But this is tight as fuck. The riffs are great and it’s got a nice punchy pace and a crisp tone that suits the mood perfectly. Outstanding debut from an unheard of artist. Hoping he sticks around for many years to come.


7. Thundercat – Drunk

funk/jazz

Sample track: Bus in These Streets

A tongue-in-cheek dreamfunk fantasy. Artists who can let a cheesy sound be cheesy often accidentally stumble into brilliance. This guy makes some of the goofiest sounds that funk and jazz have ever imagined somehow feel endearing. I’m also pretty impressed by how distinct his sound is. I mean, considering how radically uninformed on this sort of style I am, it kind of blew my mind that I could instantly go “this guy must have wrote the bass lines to Wesley’s Theory“. I think Drunk is an incredibly well-craft work masked behind a delicious veil of comedy. And it’s given us such eloquent 21st century mottos as “thank god for technology, because where would we be if we couldn’t tweet our thoughts?”


6. Krallice – Loüm

post-black metal

Sample track: Etemenanki

If Go Be Forgotten offered Krallice’s most deranged opening melody to date, Loüm might take the prize for their heaviest boot in the ass. Etemenanki hammers down all the brutality of a headbanger’s wet dream from the first note without budging an inch on Krallice’s classic eclectic tremolo noodling. I don’t think I’ve wanted to just open my mouth and shout “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” to a Krallice song this bad since Inhume. As with Go Be Forgotten, there’s a serious question of whether the album as a whole is really that great or if the opening song just carries it, and that’s not to knock the rest so much as to say that by Krallice’s ridiculously high standards I think it might have some mediocrity. You can never really tell with most Krallice songs until you’ve heard them four dozen times. It’s complicated, intricate shit that your brain doesn’t instinctively unravel. My gut tells me that Loüm will keep on growing on me in a way that Go Be Forgotten may struggle to, and I was right about that with Prelapsarian’s incredibly late release last year. (Yes, it is amazing.) The only lasting down point about Loüm for me is, surprisingly, the addition of Dave Edwardson (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) on vocals. He does a killer job, but I am shamelessly in love with Nick McMaster’s vox and can’t help but miss them.


5. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

folk

Sample track: Crow

Phil Elverum’s wife died last year, and he wrote this album. It’s artistically significant for reasons that are pointless to explain, because I think you will either already get it or it will fundamentally conflict with whatever life coping mechanism you personally subscribe to, and both are fine. It matters to me more than other albums about death because we appear to share roughly the same world view. It isn’t my favorite album of the year because it can’t be.


4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers

post-rock

Sample track: Bosses Hang

I somehow managed to ignore the rebirth of GY!BE in spite of being entirely aware of it, and this is the first album I’ve listened to by them since Yanqui U.X.O. fifteen years ago. In the meantime, I’ve become an avid consumer of Silver Mt Zion, and after that long of a break it’s easy to forget just how different the two projects were. I’m at a loss for words to properly describe how I feel about Luciferian Towers because I have nothing remotely current and similar to compare it to. “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State” are both absolutely mind blowing, and I usually skip the first and third tracks and don’t even care. This is the greatest band in post-rock being exactly that.


3. Kendrick Lamar – Damn

hip hop

Sample track: DNA

Every time I saw this album top another year-end list, I wanted to move it further down mine. It doesn’t move me on an emotional level like To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s not Kendrick’s greatest work. Can it really be the best of 2017? But every time I revised my year-end list, it just kept moving up instead. Everything he touches has a subtle finesse to it. I love the sound of his voice. I love the way he weaves it into the instrumentation flawlessly. I love how every aspect of each song seems painstakingly tailored to suit the intended vibe. I can just really get into this from start to finish time after time with zero effort. It was my 2017 fallback the grand bulk of the times I wasn’t in the mood for something dark or heavy. This album makes me feel empowered every time I put it on with no cheap sense of escapism attached, and god did I need something like that.


2. Boris – Dear

drone/doom/psych/post-rock

Sample track: Dystopia (Vanishing Point)

Wow. This is 16th year that I’ve compiled a year-end list. For the grand majority of that time, I would have named Boris in my top 5 favorite bands if you asked me. During that time, they’ve put out 53 releases just that I have managed to acquire. And not one has earned my #1 slot. Smile came so close. So close. And now I’m saying it again. I almost feel guilty leaving Dear at #2. It was never dropping any lower. But if you’re at all familiar with it, this might sound generous. Dear is nowhere near their most well-received album. It is absolutely nowhere near their most accessible. Doom and drone at its core, it’s a slow drip grind that will leave all but the most steadfast fans bored out of their minds on first encounter. Yet I somehow managed to listen to it close to 50 freaking times. It wasn’t that I liked it at first. I kind of didn’t. But the mood was right. It hit that sweet spot between ambience and melody that made it never quite dull enough to bore inherently but never quite memorable enough to bore through familiarity. It was dark but it wasn’t morbid. It was just the right sort of fuzz to make me feel more alert without distracting me. And it was through that extremely passive but relentless pattern of listening that its finest moments slowly revealed themselves to me, raising the bar higher and higher, until now it blows my mind that a track like Dystopia (Vanishing Point) could have failed to sweep me off my feet on first encounter. It certainly manages to every time now, on take number one hundred and god knows what. This isn’t my favorite Boris album, but I suspect it’s much higher up there for me than for most fans, and after a very great deal of consideration it only failed to take the title by a fraction of a hair. Oh, I also got to watch them play it live in its entirety. 😀


1. Sun Kil Moon – Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood

Americana

Sample track: Lone Star

The grand prize goes to Sun Kil Moon. I think this might be for me what Pure Comedy has been for a lot of other people this year. It just speaks to so much I’ve been feeling in 2017 in a way I can completely relate to. Mark Kozelek takes half of the stuff I’ve been making enemies spouting all year and sets it to solid American folk music. He has a blue collar political perspective that offers no compromise for our “total fucking asshole” President but takes far more cutting hits at liberal America’s zero-attention-span reaction-click-and-move-on culture for allowing the country to fall into this state. The album is a two hours and ten minutes meandering disjointed travel through personal stories and monologues that reach all over the place, but underneath it all is a consistent love and appreciation for the bonds we share in our meager little lives, and an intense compassion for those who have permanently lost them. If he comes across as cranky, he’s just pissed at how many Americans have lost sight of this.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016

My Top 10 Albums of 2016


*taps the mic*

This thing still work?

Hi! Yeah, I exist. It’s been a busy year.

For one thing, the lovely Ms. Phoebe Lucille was born on June 29th. 🙂

A two year old and a six month old do not make for many leisurely afternoons exploring new music, and besides that, my competing addictions to Forum Mafia and Overwatch have consumed virtually all of what little free time I have. Suffice to say, I’m not exactly well informed on music in 2016. In fact, I can’t name 10 metal albums that came out last year off the top of my head, so my traditional top metal list just isn’t going to happen.

But I’ve been posting some sort of year-end music list every year since 2002, and I’ll be damned if I let ignorance stop me. So here goes nothing:

10. Krallice – Prelapsarian

Prelapsarian was released on December 21st. I didn’t find out about its existence until quite recently, and like every Krallice albums, it’s going to take a good 30 listens to fully appreciate. But after a few early spins I can confidently say that it’s good, and because it’s Krallice, that probably means I’ll be kicking myself half a year from now for not giving it my #1 slot. My initial take-away is that the band has continued to pursue the more mathy/avant-garde approach they took on Ygg Huur in place of the progressive opuses of their first four albums, and while that might not make for the same degree of eternal replay value, they’re still the best in the business at what they do. I could argue that I liked the Hyperion EP released earlier this year more, but that’s hardly fair given the amount of time I’ve had to listen to Prelapsarian. I’m going to err on the side of reason here and say this album will be firmly cemented in my top 10 of 2016 a month from now.

9. Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Is it another cop out to include a 16 minute EP in my year end list? Maybe. Whatever the play time limits, Transmutation of Wounds takes me on a pretty diverse and chaotic ride. In a lot of ways it felt like a more complete work to me than many full length black metal albums I heard this year, because it’s always going somewhere. The destinations aren’t particularly inviting, but they’re consistently fascinating. A solid debut from a band that could really kill it if they put together a full length album.

8. Skáphe – Skáphe²

This one is a brilliantly discordant and meandering take on black metal. It borders on unlistenable for all the right reasons, and leaves me feeling a little sick to my stomach every time I give it a spin. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s an artistic accomplishment that really very few bands out there can pull off. I mutually adore and abhor it. On an amusing note, I just realized as I was writing this that the line-up includes members of Misþyrming and Martröð. Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu would have easily made my 2015 list if I hadn’t only discovered it this past January, and I placed Martröð one slot up, so at least my tastes are consistent. <_<

7. Sumac – What One Becomes

I need to get off my ass and buy a physical copy of this album. Post-metal god Aaron Turner finally found a worthy follow-up to Isis when he joined forces in 2015 with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook to create The Deal, a sludgy masterpiece that might be what Isis would have sounded like had they tied a brick to every guitar string. The Deal has been my go-to album for car rides for quite a while now, and it’s hard for me to compare its quality to What One Becomes because I’ve only ever listened to the latter at home. But I’ve heard it enough to know it’s excellent, and it’s only going to keep on growing on me in years to come.

6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

I don’t suppose this needs much explanation. Half a year ago, I might have considered it for my top choice of the year. Sitting here right now, I can’t honest remember any of the songs besides “Burn the Witch” and the absolutely beautiful revision of “True Love Waits” without putting the album on to remind myself. That’s been the simple difference for me between post-Hail to the Thief Radiohead and all that came before. I love it when I’m experiencing it; I can’t really remember it a few weeks removed. But it’s more a testimony to Thom and company’s longevity that the music they released in 2016 still earns an easy placement in my top 10 of the year.

5. Run the Jewels – 3

This is where my list is going to start getting a little unconventional to people who’ve known me for a long time. I was really into Anticon back in the early 2000s (I gave Buck 65’s Secret House Against the World my #1 slot in 2005), but by and large hip hop has remained one of those genres I massively respected but never really got around to expansively engaging. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015 hit me hard enough to affect a more lasting change in my listening habits. I listened to more hip hop than metal in 2016. So there’s the preface.

When I say I don’t know hip hop though, I mean it. El-P and Killer Mike were nothing to me but names I’d heard people mention a million times before I picked up this album. I can’t compare this to their past albums. I can’t speak from experience. I can’t even talk about its appeal over time, because this album just dropped on Christmas Eve. But it hit me for all the reasons I was digging Aesop Rock this time 15 years ago, and in a year when hip hop was my go-to genre it was the perfect album to close things out.

4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

That was the easy part. Now it gets hard. The rest of these could go in any order. They’re so mutually different that I don’t really know where to begin in ranking them. So I’m going to do the stupid thing and put the album I’m most likely to love longest at the bottom of the pile.

Is this the most intelligent album of 2016? Probably. I don’t have to be well versed in a genre to recognize a piece of art when I see it. Atrocity Exhibition shows extreme attention to lyrical and musical detail in crafting its grim cautionary descent into drug abuse and street violence. Brown pulled together a collection of sounds that projected his vision in astoundingly visual ways. No one should ever realistically be able to rap to this, but he managed to lay his eccentric and expressive voice over top of it anyway. It’s one of those packages that takes extreme care to ensure that it’s barely holding itself together at any given moment. If I was strictly picking the “best” album of 2016, Brown would be my boy, but what good is a year end list if I can’t kick myself for how stupid my ordering was afterwards?

3. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Besides, metal has always hit closest to home for me. It’s the sound I find easiest to embrace, whatever its abrasiveness, and once again France has served as the source of its finest cuts. For better than a decade, friends whose tastes I trust have been praising Deathspell Omega, but I could never quite catch the hype. That changed this year. Far and away my favorite metal album of 2016, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a complex and captivating black metal masterpiece that’s really perfectly mixed to bring out the robustness of their sound in a full and fleshy way. The song progression is delightfully abstract without ever teetering into the abyss of wankery. A lot of its success stands on their ability to remain relentlessly aggressive no matter how far they delve into experimentation. Too obscure for me to ever fully wrap my head around, I’ve put it on more than 50 times expecting the sort of bore that excessively abstract metal tends to convey on me, and every time I’m just immediately swept away, not fully cognizant of what my ears are hearing but thoroughly in love. These guys crafted an exceptional album on their own, but they owe their studio staff a lot of respect for delicious production too.

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

From here I’ve got to vote with my heart, and that begins with the 34 minute heartbreak that is 22, A Million. This album reminds me more of Lost in Translation than of any particular album. It’s packed with disjointed vignettes that don’t serve an apparent purpose towards progressing the album. They often start or end abruptly. It almost comes off as a compilation of half-finished works that got mashed together in an abbreviated 34 minute package with all the meat left behind, but I think it works well that way. Fleeting moments of digital indie folk that always manage to feel simultaneously depressed and comforting–the end result is something beautiful. I put my kids to sleep with it at night.

1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I’ve been trying my hardest to overplay this album for ten months now, but it just won’t grow old. I don’t know if past artists have incorporated gospel into hip hop to this extent or not, but if they’re half as effective at it, lead the way. I don’t have to share Chance’s religious beliefs to find this album entirely uplifting from start to finish. It beams positivity from end to end without any of the pop sunshine and flowers that turn me off to the vast majority of “happy” music. Chance is at his best when he’s passionately and arrogantly busting out religious lines (and he kills it just as hard on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”, whatever I think of the rest of that album). That’s the focus for the grand bulk of this work. It’s not perfect by a long shot. Where he diverts to more worldly themes, he’s often shallow and cliche. “All Night” for instance is really fun to jam along to but leaves me feeling more than modestly cheated on the lyrical front.

But I don’t really care. I fell in love with the spirituality of this album right from the get-go, and close to a year later it still brightens me up every time I put it on. It won’t go down among my top albums of all time, but it earned its place as my favorite of 2016.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  6. 2016 in Review: Lisa Picks the 16 Worst Films of 2016!

Review: Pyramids – A Northern Meadow


Pyramids are four seemingly random Joes from Denton, Texas, who have managed to attract some huge names in the world of music, possibly through their completely ridiculous album covers. Well, maybe not that, but the genre-defying oddity known as Pyramids and their associated acts have shown an uncanny knack for recruiting stars to their projects. Originally signed to Aaron Turner’s (Isis, Old Man Gloom) acclaimed Hydra Head Records, they managed a transition to metal’s newest cutting edge label, Profound Lore, as soon as the former went defunct. Their self-titled debut in 2008 scored Colin Marston (Krallice), Vindsval (Blut Aus Nord), and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu), among others, to contribute to a remix album, while band leader R. Loren’s White Moth and Sailors with Wax Wings projects have featured David Tibet (Current 93), Alec Empire (Atari Teenage Riot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), John Gossard (Weakling), Simon Scott (Slowdive), Hildur Guðnadóttir (múm), and Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride), to name… a few? The 2009 follow-up, a collaborative album with Nadja, featured Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins), and there’s an Ulver remix of it floating around out there. They also lead some cassette tape project with 49 bands I’ve never heard of and This Will Destroy You.

In spite of the absolutely ridiculous, confounding string of names I just threw out, this band remains pretty damn obscure. A Northern Meadow, their first full-length since 2009, may well change all that, with positive reviews on sites like Pitchfork Media ensuring them a moment in the spotlight. Moreover, Colin Marston and Vindsval are active guest musicians this time, with pretty encompassing roles.

track: “In Perfect Stillness, I’ve Only Found Sorrow

The opening track, “In Perfect Stillness, I’ve Only Found Sorrow”, kicks off with Marston’s quintessential tremolo and Vindsval’s equally iconic drum programming, while R. Loren’s vocals quickly cue us into the fact that this isn’t going to be a straight metal album. Instead, we face a prolonged melancholy that finds its essence in the vocals and never really resolves into anything. This brooding approach carries throughout the album, but as the minutes tick by you can notice a slight sort of development–little hints at a more complex animal below the surface. “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like The Mouths Of Whales” rises out of the plod for thirty seconds of really catchy guitar before dissolving back into bleak noise. “The Substance Of Grief Is Not Imaginary” feels like a Blut Aus Nord song in slow motion, offering all of their accustomed madness with none of the speed or volume, while Loren briefly confounds the mood with a really beautiful but short lived vocal melody. “Indigo Birds” extends the vocal presence, with Loren singing longer with more effects and range. As the song dissolves out into distorted droning and ultimately three minutes of dissonant synth, the album approaches a modest transition in character. The interlude resets the mood, allowing the remainder of the album to take, I think, a slightly more abrasive or confrontational approach.

Track: “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye

The second half of the album is more distinct, with more drive in the guitar and a faster rate of transition. “I Have Four Sons, All Named For Men We Lost To War” starts off with the most crushing tones on the album, enhanced in their finality by the still slow pace set by Vindsval’s drums. “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye” has a really memorable industrial groove, with some synth tones that invoke for the first time in me a real vision of something… perhaps ancient, a sort of primordial ruin made all the older by Loren’s forlorn, beautiful vocals. Like “Indigo Birds”, the song dissolves out into low-tuned guitar and synth droning, but the feeling is more complete. The substance of the song gives you more to reflect on in the haze of noise that follows.

On “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye” and growing throughout the remainder of the album, Loren’s vocals start to sound subtly reminiscent of Chino Moreno to me–high-pitch meanderings that feel slightly unstable yet always harmonious. It’s an effect he pulls off well, and it makes the album feel rather back-loaded to me. “Consilience” wraps things up with a turn back to the darker side. More chaotic, and with a new touch of pessimism to the vocals, it concludes an already morbid album on a particularly bleak note. Oppressive synth creeps its way in a bit earlier, and a hard stop takes us to fading noise and silence.

A Northern Meadow leaves me with pretty mixed feelings. R. Loren has a clear aural agenda that he sticks to throughout, yet I can’t escape the feeling that the album’s highest points were those most distant from the overarching theme. The beat-down opening of “I Have Four Sons…”, the synth early in “I Am So Sorry, Goodbye”, Marston’s driving 30-second sweep in “The Earth Melts…”, the short-lived vocal burst at the start of “My Father, Tall as Goliath”… I find myself anticipating these finer moments through a lot of the moody grind, rather than just enjoying the ride and taking the highs as they hit me. That grind has a lot of character at times, especially the further into the album I get, but not enough to match the talent Loren was working with here.

I guess I would say that A Northern Meadow is a very unique album, and I love Loren’s dedication to uniting awesome musicians, but I don’t feel very compelled to keep listening to it as the novelty begins to wear off. If its slightly chaotic morbidity strikes a chord with you, you might love it, but if you can’t connect to that feeling it will inevitably grow tedious at times. Marston’s noodling isn’t extensive enough to keep me constantly engaged the way a Krallice album can–a tall order, considering how equally brilliant that band’s other three members are–nor do I think Vindsval’s drum tones hold up in this sort of mono-tempo drag. It doesn’t help that both musicians inevitably play themselves. Like say, Humphrey Bogart or Morgan Freeman, they are so distinctly themselves that you feel like you’re hearing the actors, not the characters they are meant to portray. There is nothing of the instrumental synergy both produce in their main bands. I don’t hear the chemistry of two great musicians working together here. I just hear two great musicians, like some mash-up with Loren mixing vocals and synth into the pot. There may be some truth to that: if I understood Loren’s recent interview with Decibel Magazine correctly, I’m pretty sure Vindsval and Marston had no direct communication while crafting this.

I’m not saying A Northern Meadow is bad. Not at all. But it does leave me wanting something more. I can’t help but wonder what could come out of Loren, Marston, and Vindsval sitting down in a recording studio together, and I suspect it would be something more substantive than this, with a lot more motion and a lot less gloom. But that meeting might be pretty difficult to arrange, and who knows whether they would see eye to eye if Loren had allowed them less freedom to do their own things. I might yet get into this, if I can get over what it isn’t sufficiently to appreciate what it is.

Review: Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry


I am definitely not a time-honored, faithful fan of Blut Aus Nord. They managed to evade my radar for over 15 years before the 777 trilogy brought them into the broader spotlight. Sect(s) impressed me from the start, but in a twisted, bewildering way that was not necessarily enjoyable. It was a car accident you slowed down to gawk at in spite of your better judgment. It was a disturbing feast of dementia. I did not hop on The Desanctification right away, naively expecting more of the same, and it was only with Cosmosophy that I finally caught on to just how intelligent and creative Blut Aus Nord could be.

I didn’t go back in time and pick up their classics, but I did eagerly await their next album with zero assumptions about where it might go. This seemed like a band that could do anything they set their mind to, and judging by Kristian Wåhlin’s cover art, it would be something fairly distinct from 777.

Blut Aus Nord – Paien, from Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry

What I found was an album that kept a lot of basic elements intact, but, sure enough, sounded nothing like 777‘s cyberpunk journey through a hellspawn-ridden hive mind. Saturnian Poetry feels like much more traditional black metal on the surface, though you will be hard pressed to write it off as such. It takes about five seconds to realize that the blurred tremolo will not be content to loop into any stereotypical black metal monotony. The song jerks upward in a frantic fit, and by the 40 second mark we’re already on to a new rotation. Celestial keyboard “aaahhhs” and a barely sane pattern of motion rip your eyes wide open, and the clean, ethereal vocals at 1:20 tower above as an apathetic higher being uninterested in quelling the chaos beneath it. When the blast beats and constant motion do break, it is never long enough to calm the mood. It is an avant-garde, progressive approach to black metal that I can only compare to Krallice, only where they remain raw and brutal to a fault, Blut Aus Nord mellow out the drumming and keep the eye of a graceful keyboard looming ever above you.

You are being watched as you thrash about into empty space as hard as steel. We don’t know what that eye wants, but we sometimes catch a glimpse of its perspective, as at 5:10, as the beat slows to a plod and the sweeping guitar takes in a vast vision far beyond your natural senses.

Blut Aus Nord – Metaphor of the Moon, from Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry

Blut Aus Nord is a band you can sense beyond the limitations of your ears. That was something that struck me from the first time I ever listened to Epitomes 1 and 2 on Sect(s). Where so many experimental black metal bands aim to invoke a feeling, Blut Aus Nord paint a sensory world. The motion of the guitar is so pronounced that you feel the notes cascading around you. Metaphor of the Moon opens amidst a tornado, everything spiraling downward in a rush of energy that encircles you. Wherever their songs might be headed, I tend to feel trapped within them in body–some twisted wonderland where keyboard and clean vocal spirits gaze upon me and invisible forces and amalgamations of lead guitar swoop all around, discernible only through some super-sense that informs me of their presence without ever forming a solid image.

But if I had to pick a fault in Saturnian Poetry, it would be the overly traditional percussion. Beats carried the day in the 777 trilogy. The band’s experimentation with unconventional drum tones added the final layer needed to complete the unique quasi-physical world of their music. On Saturnian Poetry, the lack of this element serves as an occasional reminder that I am, after all, only listening to a song. “Metaphor of the Moon” is the track that seems to extend beyond my attention span the most, at least to a point. I can latch on to it at just about any moment if I choose to, but it sometimes fails to hold me long without some effort on my part.

Blut Aus Nord – Clarissima Mundi Lumina, from Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry

That being said, these guys are a clear cut above the vast majority of their competition in the black metal scene. It is hard to believe that France, once known for the raw and unadorned acts of Les Légions Noires, could give us three of the most significant post-black bands of our time, but Blut Aus Nord, Peste Noire, and Alcest surely stand as a triumvirate of progression and experimentation in 21st century metal. Saturn Poetry will never top the 777 trilogy in my books, and generic drumming is to blame first and foremost. Yet I’ll not soon forget a closing track like this–the listener sacrificing himself to madness, screaming towards that eye above, catching unintelligible glimpses that only make his violence more desperate. It never ends, never finds resolution, just continues to implode in perpetual waves of self-destruction. I don’t know that the song, or the album as a whole, has any clear passage. There is no apparent journey here or grand enlightenment at the end, though perhaps I ought to find the first two Memoria Vetusta albums before I pass judgment. Either way, Saturnian Poetry is another shattered window into that twisted, imaginative world that only these French masters can conjure. Whether I see in it precisely what the band intended or not, I definitely see something words cannot easily describe.

It’s also worth mentioning the Debemur MoRTi EP released earlier this year. It offers a unique cover of “Bastardiser” by Pitchshifter that I think you will all appreciate.

Review: Woods of Desolation – As the Stars


Has it really been two years since I’ve reviewed a new album? The fact came as a bit of surprise, but here it is late October and I’m staring at a massive horde of 2014 releases that I’ve barely cracked. I was a bit more diligent about keeping up with these when I actually took the time to write about them!

I hope to jump back into this business in force, but in case I fail, I’ll not put off the cream of the crop. My album collection is starting to get overrun by “Woods of” X artists; it seems to be the most popular black metal prefix after “Dark” these days. But one among them might be destined to distinguish itself with my #1 album of the year pick.

Woods of Desolation – Unfold, from As the Stars

I spent a great deal of my late teens and early 20s basking in the polarizing glories of post-rock and black metal. The likes of Explosions in the Sky, Sigur Rós, Emperor, and Nokturnal Mortum pumped the residual poison of rock and roll out of my blood and raised me to higher expectations of musical fulfillment. I listened to them not with a care for technical precision or physical skill, but in search of an experience I did not fully understand. Both genres approached this through similar means, but fell short as social stigmata demanded modesty or brutality carry the day. As I grew into an adult, the ice was broken. Neige’s Le Secret whispered its meaning into my ears just as I was old enough to embrace it. He’d broken the Berlin wall of music, and what awaited beyond was strange and beautiful.

Post-black metal, shoegaze metal, “transcendental”, call it what you will. Ten years ago, this album–what the woefully uninformed all-purpose reviewers will write off as a Deafheaven copycat–was not possible. It emerged as many musicians with the same thoughts and greater talent than myself caught glimpse of that beautiful beyond and embraced it. You can name a dozen artists that might have influenced the Australian solo project known as Woods of Desolation, but this brave new genre demands our presence in the here and now. It calls on us to bask in glorious tremolo sweeps triumphant over entwined barricades of light and darkness. “Proud to be living in the echo–the mist of all things combined,” Krallice once wrote, and though they designed to crush it, we retain the luxury to return. When I hear a song this triumphant, that line always comes to me, and the albums that accomplish it are still few and far between. I still love Explosions in the Sky and their ilk, but they offer a different sort of grandeur. Theirs is an experience of climbing to the peak. Songs like “Unfold” allow us to explore the pinnacle at length, from start to finish.

Woods of Desolation – Like Falling Leaves, from As the Stars

To start at the summit and know where you stand. That might be post-black metal in a nutshell. What we can do there… that is still an on-going exploration. Where Liturgy and Primordial roar like lions into the jaws of death, “Like Falling Leaves” is something of the opposite. It accepts the end awaiting it. In this track we don’t hear any of the overarching optimism of “Unfold”. Instead, we’re accepting that something dear is gone forever, and we are held fast in that moment of realizing the fact’s finality. The bulk of the album seems in keeping with these two vibes, sometimes heightened, sometimes subdued, sometimes entwined. “Withering Fields” and “And If All the Stars Faded Away” seem peculiarly triumphant and longing simultaneously, while “Ad Infinitum” is pretty enough for a new Alcest album. Nearly every track bears a sufficiently memorable hook to sound familiar by the second or third play through, and at a mere 35 minutes, it does not waste much time dragging out build-up in between.

I don’t know that As the Stars will retain my #1 spot through the end of the year, especially if I start to pump out album reviews in force again. It is nothing remotely on par with my picks for the last three years, and it suffers from muddy production that can’t always do the song writing justice, but I stand by it as my favorite so far. This is one I’ll keep near and dear to me long after the bulk of my 2014 collection has been forgotten.