Given the impossible task of boiling down the hundreds of albums I reviewed in a year down to just 10, I always opt instead to make 3 lists for our 3 ratings scales and also break the year into two halves. This particular list is for albums that show some moxy when it comes to sounding different and pushing boundaries while still creating an engaging listening experience. Be sure to also check out the lists for Musicianship and Enjoyability this week.
It was Austin's wish that his new album not be reviewed, but I can't let this one slip by without at least a few words. While The Scars of Man... is not quite as strong or innovative an album as Autumn Eternal or Roads to the North, Kentucky's Panopticon continues it's reign as perhaps the most genuine and unique portrayal of atmospheric black metal in the genre. This sprawling double album is split into two parts: the first representing the usual folky fusion of soaring melodic black metal with acoustic interludes, and the second going full-on folk music. Most definitely an album worth experiencing in a full sitting at least once.
"This album tries to draw the line against technological innovations, on subjects amongst transhumanism, robotics, artificial intelligence, connected devices, and others. Ethical, ecological limits which we should all be aware of, to avoid an accelerated degeneration of mankind." I wasn't sure what to make of a band calling themselves "progressive grindcore;" an oxymoron if I ever heard one. But if anyone pulls it off in the end it's Grind-O-Matic. Yes, the blastbeats, noisy riffs, and short track lengths scream grind, but between the lines is a jazzy, prog-ridden foundation that folds it all into one cohesive concept. It's half vicious assault, half psychedelic acid trip. Grind-O-Matic grabs the spectrum by its poles and makes a f#$king pretzel out of it. FULL REVIEW
Flight's Fav's: Nutcracker, Ignorance Day, Rambot
Swiss post metal band Abraham delivers a two hour, four-part concept album via Pelagic Records, each section defined by a unique approach in terms of style, songwriting, degree of experimentation, and choice of instrumentation. I tend to shy away from longer albums due to the increased time investment for review and my general lack of patience, but Look, Here Comes The Dark! is worth every minute. I went into part 1 ("Anthropocene") thinking that this was just going to be a fusion of stoner rock and old school post-hardcore, but as the album progresses, we traverse through death metal, sludge, doom, jazz/psychodelic, and even some blackened vocals. Look, Here Comes The Dark! ends up being a gripping journey that entices various moods with its storytelling and deeply satisfies with its endless genre-bending. FULL REVIEW
Colorado blackened death metal band Akhenaten step up their game with new album Golden Serpent God via Satanath Records. AHad I not been told hat this project was just two dudes from the US, I never would have known. Golden Serpent God is absolutely awash in stunning Middle Eastern instrumentation. This lush, exotic approach sparks up the imagination and transports the listener to another time and place. Furthermore, it is implemented with obvious respect and admiration. The black and death metal vocals and ominous guitars gel perfectly with the tribal drumming, sitar, etc. such that they are ultimately inseperable. Akhenaten aren't merely co-opting the culture and history: on this album they are living it.
Detroit hardcore band The Armed team up with producer Kurt Ballou and drummer Ben Koller (Converge, Mutoid Man, etc.) for their experimental new album, Only Love. "By imagining they had never heard punk, metal or hardcore and limiting references to pop and the music of their youth, The Armed were able to arrive at an incredibly intense, but wildly unique reinterpretation of aggressive music." The resulting 40 or so minutes sounds like Converge and later-era NIN collided with MGMT. Whereas Untitled had the band utilizing electronics as just another tool, Only Love saturates them into every aspect of the music. Even the vocals and overall production are awash in this odd, psychodelic haze. You'll hear allusions to everything from The White Stripes to The Animal Collective. FULL REVIEW
Norwegian legend Ihsahn returns with more forward thinking progressive black metal. 'Amr falls somewhere stylistically between the last two albums; exhibiting the experimentation and focus on atmosphere of Das Seelenbrechen but within the more conventional framework and melodrama of Arktis. As promised, there is an increased emphasis on electronic elements, particularly on tracks like "In Rites of Passage." In the end, 'Amr plays out like a deranged musical orchestrated in tandem by Freddy Mercury and Andrew Lloy Webber. It is filled with multitextured musical arrangements, a wide variety of emotional tones, and of course the occasional black metal flair that we all know and love. FULL REVIEW
So I actually ended up reviewing the band's 2017 album, Ofnir; but if you ask me, this live release is where it's at. Now with the backing of Season of Mist, Danish band Heilung can now bring their "amplified history from early medieval northern Europe" to a broader audience. Available both on CD and video, Lifa feels like a glimpse into a real medieval pagan ritual. The costumes, sets, and overall presentation are stunning and, more importantly, the music is positively captivating. The band combines traditional instruments, hypnotic drumming (often with real bones), throat singing, and a multiple vocal styles to create various levels of folk, ambient/drone, and the occasional overt black metal. If you thought Myrkur has mastered a more stripped-back, atmospheric approach to blackened folk metal, you haven't heard Heilung. FULL REVIEW (with video)
Swiss-American musician Manuel Gagneux returns with Zeal & Ardor, an experimental project that fuses blues and gospel with black metal to answer the question, "What would satanic spirituals sound like?" I didn't think it was possible, but Manuel may have outdone himself with Stranger Fruit. Most of us were already blown away by his creative genius on sleeper hit Devil is Fine, but this new outing continues to knock down expectations. The soul elements are more soulful ('You Ain't Coming Back"/"Built On Ashes"), the black metal parts get more time to shine ("Fire Of Motion"), and Manuel continues to experiment with atmospheric soundscapes and noise with interesting results ("The Hermit"/"The Fool"). FULL REVIEW.
Hilarious but highly talented California band Nekrogoblikon return with more humorous and difficult to classify music through Seek and Strike. Welcome to Bonkers is perhaps best described as Nintendocore meets Finntroll meets Andrew WK. You've got the technical and stylistically varied musicianship, upbeat retro electronics, off-the-wall vocal performances, fantastical imagery, and just a general panache when it comes to energy and performance. This is a band that bucks convention and is utterly shameless in layering on the cheese where it counts. Tons of fun. FULL REVIEW
"This was my attempt at orchestrating anxiety." Solo artist Lou Kelly delivers a mathy bit of experimentation, chopping up hardcore vocals from various other projects with classical instrumentation. The Vulgarian Philharmonic's unhinged songwriting is indeed a stressful experience; but it's a panic attack well worth having. Mike Patton himself would be in awe of this madness. Lou has vomited forth a deluge of piano, brass, strings, and wind intruments backed by a whirlwind of technical drumming. Worthy of a coveted 10/10, this is a must listen for 2018. FULL REVIEW.