Friday, December 23, 2011

The most disappointing albums of 2011.

The key word is disappointing. There have been plenty of albums released this year that didn't so much capture my attention; some of them were outright atrocious, but some of them didn't lack for quality so much as simply didn't meet my personal expectations. Thus, this isn't a worst of list and a band's inclusion on this list shouldn't lead anyone to believe that I necessarily hate the band or album, it just didn't do for me what I hoped it would.

Amorphis “The Beginning of Times”

Amorphis has been a fluff band ever since “Tuonela”. That doesn’t mean they’ve been bad; they really hit a stride of releasing great records when Tomi Joutsen joined the band in 2005. After re-recording several of their older songs and doing them tremendous justice on 2010’s “Magic and Mayhem: Tales from the Early Years”, I was really hoping for something with more teeth than “The Beginning of Times”. It’s not a bad album, and has some good moments (I really liked the song “Three Words”) but most of it is just too slick, too inoffensive, too bland and too “just there”- I’d rather just listen to “Magic and Mayhem” instead. I appreciate the melodic nature of Amorphis, but I wish there was just a tinge more aggression here.

Devin Townsend Project “Deconstruction”

This album basically serves to prove why Devin Townsend should NOT reform Strapping Young Lad (in addition to the fact that SYL’s last album, “The New Black”, sucked). Just because Townsend is perceived to be some sort of mad genius does not mean that “Deconstruction” is any less of a jumbled, confusing mess. It doesn’t lack for interesting ideas, and I don’t have an issue with bands throwing curve balls and abrupt turns, except that I’m left wondering exactly what did I just listen to when “Deconstruction” ends. Maybe that is his intention, but in my mind it’s just a weak cop-out for the fact that his heart isn’t in playing aggressive music anymore, especially when this album isn’t that particularly aggressive. Basically, I feel like he covered this ground with the “Ziltoid” album, except that “Ziltoid” was entertaining and actually went somewhere.

ICS Vortex “Storm Seeker”

I always thought ICS Vortex had a great voice, and put most of the credit for Dimmu Borgir’s most listenable albums on him; just consider that “Abrahadabra” was Dimmu’s 1st album without him. That said, I don’t think this album fails in execution, or is even bad in the least. But the list is “most disappointing”, not “the worst”, and thus I feel like I was expecting something heavier based on the bands ICS performed in previously. Instead, “Storm Seeker” is hyper melodic, not in a power metal way, but in almost a 70’s influenced sort of way, kinda like newer Borknagar without the blackmetal influence, and as such I’m just not compelled to listen to it.

Indian “Guiltless”

This album got a lot of praise as some sort of sludge masterpiece and the best thing to come from bands of such ilk since Eyehategod themselves. Instead, this is Iron Monkey. Okay, maybe not that bad, in fact it’s not even bad at all, but the hype didn’t even come close to the reality. Maybe it’s Today is the Day performed at 1/4th of the speed, but this doesn’t feel as much like metal as it does some sort of hipster interpretation of metal, and I’m just unable to shake that notion, thus it lives on my list of disappointments of 2011.

Morbid Angel "Illud Divinum Insanus"

Opeth "Heritage"

This time year ago, if demanded to declare a “favorite band”, Opeth probably would have been my response. Their first 5 albums are all metal masterpieces of the highest possible degree, and while their post-Blackwater Park output was uneven at times, it never failed to be exceptionally above average in quality. Then this piece of shit comes out.

I believe a band has to be satisfied with whatever they record, and if this is what Opeth in 2011 feels like recording, then they completely have the right to do so. However, just because I support a band’s artistic freedom doesn’t mean that I am automatically obliged to show enthusiasm towards everything they release. Accordingly, I think “Heritage” SUCKS. My grounds for so affirmatively declaring the fall from grace of a band I previously held in such high esteem doesn’t come from the absence of growls, or lack of downtuned distortion or the fact that “Heritage” is without any deathmetal aesthetic whatsoever. It comes from the fact that “Heritage” feels like the band cut and pasted all of the mellow, proggy parts from their previous albums that were used to transition between heavier sections of their songs….only now those disjointed parts ARE the songs, and by themselves those parts aren’t nearly as interesting. It’s like going to a fine steakhouse, and ordering a steak but getting only parsley and some steamed asparagus; who wants that? When Opeth previously dabbled in exclusively mellow material, it was done with direction and purpose, even “Watershed” in its overindulgence maintained some feeling that it was “going somewhere”. “Heritage” goes nowhere.

That’s not my biggest gripe regarding this album though. Akerfeldt was intentionally coy and vague when discussing it during interviews prior to its release. Clearly it was because he knew it would upset some fans yet he could have avoided that simply by stating “this doesn’t sound like My Arms, Your Hearse”. Opeth previously seemed like a uniquely honest band; they’ve thrown that away and become just another band in that respect. The most annoying peeve I have with “Heritage” though is how fans who weren’t even familiar with Opeth prior to “Blackwater Park” are rushing to defend this turd. Forums are littered with crybabies swearing that critics are cavemen who only listen to deathcore, as though these fanboys actually listen to King Crimson, Camel, or any of the bands that inspired this atrocity. I guess defending those Opeth tattoos is pretty rough, eh?

Septic Flesh “The Great Mass”

I actually think this album is brilliant and disappointing at the same time. Septic Flesh spared no expense in hiring Peter Tagtgren and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to craft “The Great Mass”. The production is incredible, with Tagtgren’s typically amazing drum sound highlighting a rather bombastic performance, even by Septic Flesh standards. The growls are effective, and the guest vocalists add some variety to the delivery.

My problem is that I have trouble calling this an actual Septic Flesh album. Aside from the drums, the music is absolutely dominated by the Orchestra, with the guitars doing little more than accenting the Orchestra, taking such a backseat that there isn’t a memorable riff to be found in 44 minutes.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see them live 3 times in the last 2 years, and well over half of the “performance” was coming from a CD playing all of the extra vocals and keyboards/orchestrations. Every album is a studio project to some extent, but the fact that Septic Flesh’s music feels entirely constructed by studio technicians and outside producers, it just leaves a horrible vibe. I miss the days of “Mystic Places of Dawn”, for sure.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

William's Favorite Albums of 2011

This is going to be my first real entry. In terms of bands breaking new ground, or doing anything that pushes the genre into new territory, those days are gone. I'll rant about how the lack of innovation in heavy metal isn't even a big deal another time, but regardless I don't think I can say what the Best 10 or 15 albums of 2011 were, but I can say what albums released this year that I've been compelled to listen to repeatedly are. And with that so goes this year's list, in no particular order (okay, so alphabetized...):

Black Oath- The Third Aeon

Candlemass worship. And I mean that as a compliment. I don’t know a lot about this band other than that they’re from Italy and this is their debut. As the phrase “Candlemass worship” expresses, it’s classically styled doom that focuses on simple, big riffs. Clean sung vocals that kinda remind me of Robert Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus), and a tasteful dose of keyboards that never distract from the heaviness but rather add to the gloomy, mournful atmosphere. Like a lot of the albums I fell in love with in 2011, it features a certain rawness in terms of its production.

Blood Freak- Mindscraper

Never heard of this band before witnessing them at MDF, left impressed enough to buy a copy of “Mindscraper” that day. Furious and unrelenting, “Mindscraper” delivers goregrind sickness, vocals that vary between snarls and vomit-inducing grunts, steady drum blasts, and catchy riffs, held together with a raw, murky sort of production that reminds me of death metal circa 1998. No breakdowns, no triggered drums, no vocal effects- just great songwriting and enough captivating moments to keep the listener sucked in.

Derelict Earth- And So Fell the Last Leaves…

Basically one French dude recorded and self-released this album (and made it available for free online!), and in doing so recorded a better Opeth album than Opeth did in 2011. It sounds a lot like “Orchid” or “Morningrise”, but with some influences from other “avant-garde” metal bands like Agalloch or even Orphaned Land (there’s a fair amount of Mediterranean/Oriental sounding guitar harmonies going on here). A lot of proper reviews found fault with the raw nature of the music (single-tracked guitars, programmed drums, amateurish clean vocals) but for me that was part of the charm. Derelict Earth may never be anything more than a band that tastefully combines its influences, but I can think of many worse things than being comparable to “good Opeth”.

Disma- Towards the Megalith

Craig Pillard (ex. Incantation) releases an album that sounds like Incantation. No frills, no bullshit, just old school misery and gloom, like drowning in murky waters. Some fast parts, some doomy parts; it's the same predictable formula Incantation has utilized for years. But really, what’s not to like about that?

Gorgasm- Orgy of Murder

There’s nothing unique or even special about Gorgasm, who have never been more than a 5th rate Midwestern Suffo-clone. I rate this album among my favorites of 2011 more because it takes me back to the time when I really got into the underground. “Orgy of Murder” reminds me of 1999-2003 when as a fan I knew what a band was going sound like based on the label it was released on; when deathmetal from the Midwestern United States, Texas, California, and New York all had distinct sounds. Back in the day that if it came out on Ablated, or United Gutteral, or Unique Leader, you knew what you were buying. “Orgy of Murder” reminds me of bands like Regurgitation and Incestuous and Lividity, which is to say that they worship at the altar of Suffocation but with bigger, more pronounced slam/breakdown sections but not so far gone as Dying Fetus or any of the pure chug chug bands.

Les Discrets- Septembre et Ses Dernières Pensées

Sadboy metal ahoy. This album occupies a space somewhere between Katatonia and Red Sparrowes, with a definite influence from Agalloch. The vocals remind me most of Garm’s clean vocal performance on Ulver’s "Bergtatt" album, or maybe Jonas on Katatonia’s “Discouraged Ones” album. An absolutely gorgeous multi-tempo album of dreary, bleak sounds.

Nader Sedek- In The Flesh

The album Morbid Angel SHOULD have released this year. Nader Sadek is a visual artist who wanted a soundtrack to match his concept of man’s reliance on oil, and the band’s impressive lineup of Steve Tucker (ex-Morbid Angel), Flo Moriner (Cryptopsy) and Rune Eriksen (ex-Mayhem, Aura Noir) composed an album of actual SONGS that perfectly fit that theme. The tracks are blistering and mechanical sounding deathmetal with a Morbid Angel-like vibe. The watery effects on Tucker’s vocals in particular lend the album a cold feeling. The combination of vocals that sound like they’re being emitted from a rotting corpse with riffs that clank and march like a tank and drums that literally sound like they’re pounding metal into shape made this a really effective album.

Ulcerate- The Destroyers of All

This is the second album by New Zealand’s Ulcerate that I am aware of, and if you understand what I mean by “they sound like a Willowtip Band”, then you should have some idea what this album sounds like. Rooted in death metal, Ulcerate feature none of the chunky, meaty slam or breakdown riffs that a band like Pathology or Defeated Sanity litter their sound with. Instead, Ulcerate is far more discordant, with lots of warped clang-y riffs that maybe I’d associate with say, Inevitable End or maybe Human Remains or Burnt By The Sun; perhaps it’s not a coincidence that they recently signed with Relapse Records. It’s at once a noisy and moody affair, and not an easy record to listen to if you’re in the mood to listen to something passively. “The Destroyers of All” demands your full attention, it has to be absorbed completely and attentively, but if you have the attention span to devote to it, you’ll observe that this album might well be the soundtrack to the apocalypse.

Vallenfyre- A Fragile King

A few years ago I think Gregor McIntosh was something of a pariah in the doom metal scene; he appeared to be the person chiefly responsible for Paradise Lost’s transition from Doom Metal’s answer to Metallica (and perhaps Europe’s answer to fill Metallica’s void post-Load) to a sample-heavy mediocre Depeche Mode inspired “dark rock” act. By 2010 Paradise Lost has come back from the proverbial wilderness and records honest to satan metal music again. And following the unfortunate loss of his father, Gregor revisited his original influences and the result is “A Fragile King”. Combine the haunting lead melodies of “Lost Paradise” and “Gothic” by the downtuned stomp of early Entombed with a dose of Bolt Thrower, along with Gregor’s surprisingly solid growls (impressive pronunciation!) and what you get is an album that stands apart from other attempts by metal artists (anyone remember God Among Insects or Murder Squad?) to recapture the sound of 1990. This album might not be particularly original, but it sounds sincere, is beyond competently performed, and has enough catchiness that I’ve had it on repeat since I bought it.

Wooden Stake- Dungeon Prayers and Tombstone Serenades

I guess “occult rock” is the new hip subgenre, kinda how in recent years drone-doom (snore) then shoegaze blackmetal (yuck) went through their phases of being the hip or “in” subgenre. I’m fairly confident that Wooden Stake, a band I literally discovered by randomly clicking “download” on a mediafire link, is completely unoriginal and unremarkable among this budding wave of bands. However, rather than go the path of ripping off Blue Oyster Cult (Ghost) or Jethro Tull (Blood Ceremony), Wooden Stake bows at the altar of The Obsessed and Weedeater, complete with vocals that range from groaned incantations of doom to raspy anguish. Featuring a raw production and riffs that vary from a crawl to a brisk walk while soaked in a swampy sludge, I came back to this album often enough that it belongs on a list of my favorite 10 albums of 2011.

There ya go. My two cents.

A Manifest.

I'm not sure where the motivation for this really came from; perhaps I was initially encouraged to do this by M, or some internet chat-buddy. A few people over on ye olde facebook seemed supportive of the idea, so with this blog, I'm once again putting my voice online for public consumption. Unlike anything I've written before, this blog will generally remain on topic.

What I'm here to write about is Heavy Metal music and topics related to its affiliated subgenres. Mostly because my own vanity needs to see my words published somewhere, and because doing so might inspire conversation. Heavy metal music is not an overwhelmingly popular genre of music, and frankly as a 31 yearold juggling a full time job, his junior year of university studies, and with a woman who demands at least some of his attention, I've begun to feel disconnected to the music that has been the soundtrack to my existence. Hopefully starting a conversation leads me to discovering new bands, or appreciating ones I've overlooked, or just having a good laugh if nothing else.

I'm not particularly qualified as a blogger or journalist. My degree isn't going to be in journalism and I haven't played an instrument since an abysmal 4th grade performance on a "recorder" or whatever that flute-like plastic thing was. I was too big an asshole and too principled to last very long doing a proper radio show (Fuck WNRN in Charlottesville, Virginia, btw), and I don't have a vagina so I'm not "best friends" with every dude in a band, ever.

What I am is an asshole with an opinion. And that's what this blog is, a forum for this asshole to express his opinions and maybe get feedback and interaction. It's not an attempt to score free shit (feel free to send it to me anyhow) or become any kind of "scene" celebrity. I won't be as funny as Sergeant D at Metalsucks, or offer in-depth reviews like the writers at Metal-Judgement or Teufel's Tomb (is that website even still around?) but the opinion expressed will be my own, free of any outside influence. Hopefully as a reader, you'll find value in my subjective opinions, based in my particular tastes within the genre. If not, go read someone else's shit. Fewer hits= more kvlt anyhow.