Okay, this is the big one. I binge BM like a bucket of Ben & Jerry's. And there were SO many amazing releases from all over the genre in 2015. Picking 10 was agonizing, but I put on my big boy pants and corpse paint to get it done. Here are my absolute favorites this year, but a few honorable mentions to Mephorash, Deuil, Deadspace, and Murg to name a few. Also note that these represent a mixture of subgenres and will not probably not satisfy the most kvlt and tr00. Follow links to the right for more band information, full reviews, and streams.
It’s USBM time again, and this one is fast and hard. At full speed, Palice Chalice can sound a lot like early Enslaved, as with the opening of “Shaking Nerves and Vacuous Spheres.” With their new album, Negate the Infinite and Miraculous, the group rises from the vile depths of unlikely Oshkosh, Wisconsin to prove that even places with funny names can slit your throat from galloping horseback.
There is a palpable atmosphere that surrounds the listener and invokes visions of dark places. Specifically, these soundscapes are inspired by the nightmares of frontman, Naas Alcameth (Nightbringer). Despite having only a few tracks, there are some great ups and downs and real progressions within their meaty runtimes. There are some truly chilling uses of simplistic hooks as with the high-pitched ringing tones that recur throughout personal favorite, "Consummation." Rather than focusing on rapidly-strummed chord progressions, Akhlys takes a few picked notes and turns them into the foundation for some real earworm melodies. The synth work is also very layered and quite beautiful.
I've never been a fan of Abigail Williams, but I am now. The teaser tracks sandblasted the skin from my bones. Another group featuring the enigmatic Charlie Fell (main duties on drums here), I hear a lot of similarities to Lord Mantis in the demented, profane shrieks and dissonant melodies. But Abigail Williams is far more grounded in black metal than groovy sludge. Blastbeats abound within cavernous recording spaces, joined by absolutely vile, aggressive tremolo.
The album opens like a Tim Burton film, with Danny Elfman's haunting storybook-style intro hovering over a snowy landscape. Enter Myrkur's beautiful voice. If you've ever been curious what a siren's song sounds like, I wouldn't doubt many sailors have been dashed against the rocks following such soothing melodies. The rising and falling notes are like layers of silk, milk, and other such cliches. Even standing nearly on there own with slight piano accompaniment and ambiance ("Byssan Lull"), the performance is absolutely captivating. A blackened "Carol of the Bells" if you will. But there is always a slight foreboding quality behind the veneer.
For every passage of post-metal magic, expect a ferocious counterpoint. I like how songs will start off with a really dark tone and then evolve into something more melodic over time, or sometimes vice-versa. Take “II” or “V” for example, the latter transforming into a vicious cut worthy of Consolamentum. In fact, each track seems to up the ante from the previous one. Guitar work is solid with the occasional hooky riff to break up the rapidly strummed chords. Au-Dessus are by no means too kvlt to employ some delay, chorus modulation, and other effects to create multi-layered textures.
Fusing the haunting howls and chord structures of post metal, the constant build of progressive, and the engrossing soundscapes of blackened folk; Umbras de Barbagia is a monument of sorrow. Between the deeply sad minor chord patterns and the (unique) folk instrumentation, the well-constructed progressions provide plenty of feeling and engagement. The most abundant untraditional instrument is the quenacho flute. You will probably recognize its sound from Kung Fu, or Kill Bill part 2. But there are also appearances of piano, strings, and even rain sounds. Those who stick around to the final track will also experience a bagpipe performance fit for a funeral procession.
I love me some blackened thrash, but for whatever reason not much of it crosses my path on a regular basis. There seems to be an endless flow of blackened folk and death, yet my penchant for Immortal and Absu is more often than not left unsatisfied. Thankfully this drought was lifted with the arrival of The Endless Winter. Equal parts the 80’s thrash of Exodus and melodic grimness of Taake, Frosthelm are a force to be reckoned with. One look at this amazing, frost-bitten cover and the band name, and you wouldn’t think this was the work of a couple dudes from North Dakota. Yet there it is. Nevertheless, these guys can shred with the best of their Nordic brethren. I can almost see Abbath silently nodding approval with crossed arms.
Instead of a sticking with a sound Austin has become quite comfortable with in the charming instrumentation raised in the south, he seems to be treading new territories with the aforementioned use of nods to other genres and influences. This album strikes me as the work of someone with changing sensibilities and priorities. As a man raising my own family and learning more every day about personal growth and change from career to home life, not only can I respect that, I connect with it. It resonates. And that's really what good music does. Despite my interest in sharing a release's levels of innovation, enjoyabiliy, and musicianship as a means to target different audiences and preferences, more often than not, what makes a great release something you keep in the daily rotation is whether or not it means something to you.
Let's cut to the chase: this is some weird, wild stuff. Heavy metal, brass-heavy symphonics, black metal, occasionally 80's thrash-sounding hooks, neo-classical solos, JPop, saxophone solos...This has a little bit of everything, and you never really know when or where it is going to happen. I am truly in awe of these compositions. Given its tendency to change drastically on a whim, trying to give an in-depth description of Graveward's sound is no easy feat. One might best compare it to a piece of modern art: No matter how off-the-wall the end result might be, every painting needs a canvas and every sculpture a structurally-sound foundation. Sigh's is crunchy, squealy riff-driven guitar work, black metal vocals, and some pretty basic drumming. That in place, Sigh proceeds to fling paint and slap clay like Jackson Pollock.
I’m not quite part of the inner-circle when it comes to Wrest. People have recommended plenty Leviathan to me and I have always walked away fairly indifferent. Not anymore. Between the solid production, stellar atmosphere, and gritty guitar-work; Scar Sighted is a monster to be reckoned with. It’s funny that I’m listening to a black metal album and the best comparison I can often make is Skinny Puppy. Sure, there are plenty of minor chords and tremolos with heavy distortion, but the overall aesthetic and use of samples just screams early 90’s industrial. Songs like “Wicked Fields” display utter chaos and abandonment of convention, while others like “Within Thrall” are filled with Mayhem-like hooks straight out of early second wave.