Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cadaveric Fumes / Demonic Oath: Entwined in Sepulchral Darkness (2014)

French Revolution

Like pretty much everyone, I used to think France was a joke. Derisive comments about surrender usually come up when middle-Americans discuss the country. When I thought of French metal, I thought of power metal bands singing about fairies or whatever.

But the French actually have a long history of being total badasses, events from the first half of the Twentieth Century notwithstanding. Cadaveric Fumes and Demonic Oath reassert that aspect of French culture. Other than a demo from each of them, the 2014 split Entwined in Sepulchral Darkness is their debut to the world. And sacrebleu! This is one hell of an introduction.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Skogen: I Döden (2014)

I Döden Do It

When it comes to underground black metal and Viking-ish / pagan-ish metal, I tend to get overwhelmed by the sheer numbers available. Yes, there are incredible releases out there, and they often come from bands I’ve never heard of before. It’s tough to know where to direct my attention. So I download a few promos, a few of them end up on the iPod, and fewer get a complete listen.

Skogen’s I Döden has been sitting on my iPod for months now, and I kept forgetting it was there. When I’m too busy to actually listen to an album, I’ll shuffle all the music, and there have been several times over the course of those months that I said something like, “That’s awesome! Who is that?” As often as not, the answer was Skogen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Top Ten Albums of 2014

Culling the Herd

In previous years I've been cute with my end-of-year lists. I did a top 13 of 2013, a top 12 of 2012, a huge number of lists and a top 25 of 2011, and back in 2010 I did best-of by subgenre. It would seem I'm done with that, for this year at least.

As I pondered 2014 in metal, I wondered where I'm going with this blog and how long I can keep doing this. Over 2,000 unread e-mails weigh on a person psychologically. I need to find a way to manage it with less time.

For a moment, I felt like my tastes have stagnated, at least in metal. The albums that stuck in my head were all from artists I've featured in previous year-end lists. But going back over the year, I was pleasantly surprised at how many standouts I had momentarily forgotten. A few of them made this list. And that's really the best reason to read these lists anyway, so you can remember to pick up the records you meant to buy.

As always, this represents how I feel about these albums now, not necessarily when I first reviewed them and not necessarily how I'll feel about them in a month. It is going to skew mostly toward the people who send me promos, but that's not all the list.

10. Wolvhammer: Clawing Into Black Sun



Another cycle of blackened sludge albums (a repeat of 2011) found Wolvhammer head-and-shoulders above contemporaries like Tombs and Castevet. For some reason this band once again slipped my mind when I first compiled this list, but taking another listen it's undeniable how great and even catchy these riffs are.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970)

Halo

In my continuing exploration of many of the classics of speculative fiction, I read Larry Niven's Ringworld. If you're familiar at all with the Halo video game franchise, you know at least one thing this book inspired. The central feature is an artifact, a made world in the shape of an enormous ring. It surrounds a sun, spinning to simulate gravity, with high walls at the edges to keep air, soil, and water from flowing off the edges of the ring's inner surface. "Shadow squares" at a closer orbit to the world's sun provide daylight intervals on the livable surface. To get a good visualization of the Ringworld, you can follow this link, although you should be warned that if you look too closely at it that will provide some spoilers.

Much of the book's descriptions focus on the sheer enormity of the world's scale. The total surface area of that inner ring is about the equal of three million Earths. That's too mind-boggling to really hold in your brain all at once. All of this is a pretty cool concept, but it doesn't by itself justify a novel dedicated to it. Not unless there's something else going on.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bloodbath: Grand Morbid Funeral (2014)

Grand?

Well, it’s a funeral, that’s for sure.

A long, long time ago Bloodbath released one of the best slabs of Swe-death of all time. Resurrection Through Carnage had the best possible version of that storied sound, and channeled it through some of the catchiest tunes known to all metal history. Over the years they’ve stayed consistently good, without quite reaching that level again, with more than one vocalist producing some of the best work of their careers. But now, rather than resurrection, we are faced with a funeral with more finality.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Atriarch: An Unending Pathway (2014)

Succession

The last time I talked about Atriarch, I focused on how they combine doom with punk’s equivalent of doom, deathrock. I said they were like a cross between My Dying Bride and Christian Death. But the more I listened to An Unending Pathway, the more I realized they are true spiritual successors to My Dying Bride.

I don’t have a handle on how well-regarded MDB are in general. Their name doesn’t seem to come up a lot. But to me they’re important, as they were one of the first bands that really struck a chord with me as I was getting into underground metal. And their prominent gothic influences, it would seem, were well ahead of their time.* That time is now, and the torch is passed to Atriarch.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Inter Arma: The Cavern (2014)

There And Back Again

Review by joanismylover, the third metal attorney.

I thoroughly enjoyed Inter Arma's 2013 release, and although FMA did not agree, I was not alone in that enjoyment.* Sky Burial was a thunderous piece of heavy music that while sludge-tinged, defied certain scene aesthetics and easy categorization. The heft was undeniable, and in all the right places. The Cavern follows somewhat quickly on that release. So why so quickly?** Still further, why make a one song album? Why make one song 45 minutes long? Why not break it up into six to nine songs, up to eight minutes long each? There are probably a lot of reasons to make a one 45 minute long song album - publicity, a bet, an internal challenge to push songwriting boundaries. But is there a cohesiveness, a theme that would justify the 45 minutes? These were my thoughts heading into this review of Inter Arma's The Cavern.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Execration: Morbid Dimensions (2014)

No Zombies

Execration is the act of condemning something, declaring it evil. But more importantly, it's an obscure word that sounds vaguely evil even if you didn't know that, and the cover art to the Norwegian band's Morbid Dimensions looks like something from an underground black metal band--the kind that has too much creativity to be contained in only the colors black and white. So we can figure out a couple of things from that alone.

But surprisingly, this turns out to be a death metal album. Raw and evil-sounding death metal, to be precise. But just as unorthodox as the colorful album art--lacking any zombies or graveyards--would suggest.

Richard Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen (1869-1876)

Götterdämmerung

The other day I mentioned Wagner in a review of a Septicflesh album. There's good reason for that. As observed in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Richard Wagner was metal a century before metal existed. So it occurred to me that it was essentially a crime that I had never listened to The Ring Cycle, a.k.a. Der Ring des Nibelungen, and I sought to rectify that situation.

I had tried to listen to Wagner before, Tristan und Isolde, specifically, and I wasn't impressed. But after doing my homework, I discovered a couple of things. One, you really need to get a good recording to appreciate it. I had bought a bargain bin copy of that opera, so I missed the mark there. Two, you need to listen to it at very high volume. Once again, I missed that the first go-around. So I did even more homework, and found the Daniel Barenboim-directed version of the entire cycle and turned the volume way, way up.

In a word, it's sublime.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood & Banjos: Blood & Banjos (2014)

Bloodgrass

If there’s one reviewer out there who is inclined to like a metal band with banjos, it’s probably me. I’ve written extensively on metal and Americana, I loved that Taak song with the banjo solo, and I adore Panopticon’s Kentucky. So it made sense for Blood & Banjos to contact me.

I was warned that they are a bluegrass band first, with some metal parts, and that’s an accurate assessment. Their self-titled debut begins sounding not unlike Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and then it turns metal. This checks the right boxes.