A lot of end-of-year lists have short memories. A lot of end-of-year lists seem to forget the year begins in January as much as the statisticians in English football forget there was a top flight before the Premier League. Hence why one or two albums that made this list appear, and it’s not for the sake that they went under the radar, or because we don’t have to feature some multi-million selling band to sell our product. But enough of the snipper snapping.
My focus on this site has really ebbed away in recent months to the point where I don’t know how much longer it can last. But I wouldn’t be doing it right to ignore what has been another stunning year for rock and metal on all levels. The UK underground in particular has never been stronger and if there is one good thing to come out of doing this site for three and a half years on and off, it’s discovering that there’s a ton of bands in this country who if our rock and metal media gave as much a toss about them as the Americans seem to do, they too could wind up a little bit hipster – and would that really be a bad thing for just a little bit of attention?! The UK is in rude health for rock and metal and all its tentacles.
In previous years I’ve split the short releases – the EPs, the splits and the demos – into a separate list, but this year I’ve not had the time to get around to two lists and to ignore those releases would be a disservice as they stack up very well compared to most full lengths. So here is just one list of ten great releases to have rocked my ears and my ears alone. I’ll stop blabbering now and let you read on as to why these records are worth a damn.
10. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun (Reprise)
Its become evident over the last few records that Mastodon were not content being the sludge behemoths of their Relapse days nor even being progressively minded as witnessed on ‘Crack the Skye‘. As their profile has increased, they’ve taken several steps to reach a more, what you might say, streamlined sound. What ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun‘ achieves is a balance between reaching that target and still retaining their core essence. The first half of the record is some of the most kick ass rock you will hear for ages, from the twerk-inspiring ‘The Motherload’ to the at-times dream state of ‘Asleep in the Deep’. It’s not an entirely perfect record but it does finish rather satisfyingly with the bullet train of ‘Halloween’ and the most old school track on record, ‘Diamond in the Witch House’. The record finally confirms Brent Hinds as a distinguishable soloist, but more importantly, it proves that Mastodon are on the next step to true greatness. I doubt we’ll get another Metallica in this lifetime, if any at all, but I wouldn’t bet against Mastodon being able to become more accessible and still making big ‘fuck you’ riffs and anthems.
9. Cannabis Corpse/Ghoul – Splatterhash (Tankcrimes)
Tankcrimes have a knack of putting out killer split releases and ‘Splatterhash‘, a release combining reefer worshippers Cannabis Corpse and horror executioners Ghoul produced the victims in spades. These are two bands who eschew any notion of meer gimmickry through knowing how to write either slamming pit tunes or memorable refrains. CC once again channel their more infamous namesake Cannibal Corpse for their two tracks, ‘The Inhalation Plague’ and ‘Shatter Their Bongs’, which again highlights how far they’ve come – sure it’s all weed crimes and terrors lyrically, but musically it’s tighter than the stuffiest spliff; while Ghoul are on fire with their side, ‘The Inner Sanctum’ a 5-minute journey once again into Creepsylvania, carrying the command at one point to ‘kill’, finishing it off with the brutal slice and dice of ‘Spill Your Guts’. Horror on record is nothing new, but these two bands carry the B-movie schtick with righteous aplomb.
8. Grey Widow – I
Featuring members of long time grimy sludge purveyors Parole, Dopefight, Thread and the Ergon Counsel, this is a band who on ‘I‘ lived out their mantra of ‘Nihilistic Putrid Fucking Hatred’ in such a way they swerved the word ‘predictable’ by committing sounds that even I could not have anticipated could sound so venomous and filthy. Mostly wallowing in sludge but capable of vomiting forth a blackened blast, yelling bloodied hardcore punk and occasionally a foreboding riff – but mostly violent black sludge. A lot of bands can profess to be as spiteful as this, but few can deliver on it the way Grey Widow did, it such a way it leaves an impression on the mind and an appreciation that some can still craft mastery out of that very word, ‘hate’.
7. Nightfell – The Living Ever Mourn (Southern Lord/Parasitic)
An album featuring the collective talents of Tim Call and Todd Burdette, of acts such as Tragedy, His Hero Is Gone and Aldebaran to name a few, ‘The Living Ever Mourn‘ struck me as a pretty good album at first but has really grown on me in such a way that I cannot ignore it. It’s irresistibly compelling in many ways, from the black metal ugh of ‘The Last Disease’, the truly neck slamming ‘Altars of Wrath’, to the funeral dirge of ‘Empty Prayers’, this is an album thick with tarred riffs and pure hellfire and brimstone. I don’t need to say more than that, other than it fucking rules.
6. Catholic Girls – Distant (Crown and Throne Ltd)
Bastard offspring of the likes of the Cancer Bats and Trash Talk, this Colorado crew lot have produced arguably the finest hardcore release of the year. That in my opinion nobody of their ilk topped this despite this one coming out early in the year says much for its quality. ‘Distant‘ is a tumult of manic riffing, occasional blasting intensity, and for 12 minutes, an impish batshit fury that only briefly lets up for the swaggering ‘Piston’, which is deserving of far bigger moshpit unions than what they are still likely getting right now. Someone sign them up please!
5. Bast – Spectres (Burning World/Black Bow)
Another fine proponent of the UK underground, London’s Bast made one hell of a debut with ‘Spectres‘, a multi-spectral album that deviled in doom, sludge, black metal, atmospherics and more. From first second to last, ‘Spectres‘ was a masterclass in how to meld those elements together in high alchemy, whether the rage of ‘In the Beginning’, melding black metal with doom riffs, to the Neurosis-esque cauldron of ‘Psychonauts’ or the cavernous riffing on ‘Denizens’. Terrorizer magazine are marking them out for big things next year, and I wouldn’t bet against them following the likes of Conan into greater consciousness.
4. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Constellation)
I would argue that this is, emotionally, the most powerful album that could be said of the Western world today. In so much that we’ve seen a lot of austerity, a lot of cutbacks, and yet the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra (or however you know or call them), released this six track call to arms early in the year and it is hard not to feel the slightest bit torn by the music and the lyrical content. It’s goddamn beautiful and yet so heavy, with austerity and the rich/poor divide so evidently the theme as it remains in day to day life. Tell me that by the time you reach ‘What We Loved Was Never Enough’ that you aren’t asking questions of your very own existence, and your very own situation, for it captures your concerns over the present and future. The album’s lengthy title is a bold one, but never truer – we already truthfully know what our country’s state is in, but it will shine a light on what it means to live in the modern era. A magnificent work from a truly visionary band.
3. Megalodoom – Tectonic Oblivion (Witch Hunter/Tartarus)
The band that used to title demos after Indiana Jones films, and after lines from Predator, got a little bit more serious and received a serious beef up in production for the release of ‘Tectonic Oblivion‘, a four song warhorse of doom that is pretty much a flawless execution of nuclear riffs. ‘Sword of the Spirit’ perhaps best embodied this, shifting from ominous rolling thunder to compelling grooves to an apocalyptic tolling outro, without the need for words. Not many bands can conjure that serpent and convince it to act for them, yet ‘Tectonic Oblivion‘ works that beast a charm in a way to make you sit up and take notice beyond the riffing.
2. Dephosphorus – Ravenous Solemnity (7 Degrees/Handshake Inc.)
If their previous record, ‘Axiom‘, was stratospheric, then ‘Ravenous Solemnity‘ is Dephosphorus gone interstellar. The Greek grinders’ astronomic approach to their music is one currently unparalleled within their scene, and this album is one that really should garner them more recognition than it has up to now. It melds numerous technical, blackened and deathly influences along with a literary tip of their hats to the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks to coagulate a marvellous text of extremity, from the apocalyptic tone of ‘Storming the Sloan Wall’ to the shadowy mystery of ‘Towards the Cold Dark Infinity’. What was big, big metal blogosphere hype a few years back is no fluke – Dephosphorus are a truly unrelenting force.
1. Yob – Clearing The Path To Ascend (Neurot)
It turns out that not everything that comes attached with a bucket load of hype attached to it, hanging off the great deceiver of hope on a rope of salacious words, only to unravel and break upon the object in question’s deliverance. Outside of the mainstream, name me one album that really garnered more attention and gaze than Yob’s ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend‘.
Through channeling the words of the great philosopher Alan Watts, Yob remind us it’s ‘time to wake up‘ in the opening chords of ‘In Our Blood’, and for the next 66 minutes they carry you through numeral states of thought as it literally does what it’s title says. It isn’t a slow plod as much as a death march, a journey of exploration. The trick of building up a lengthy song to a verge before quietly waiting on the precipice is one Yob have to a tee, and when Watts tells you to wake up again, the opener fittingly reaches its rise to the surface.
The great thing about this band is that just when you think they cannot conceive any more moments to behold, they turn up with an answer. The thunderous approach of ‘Nothing to Win’, the most anthemic track of this release by way of a chorus of sorts, is only briefly but magnificently halted by a midsection of swirling chaos and despair; ‘Unmask the Spectre’ again utilises a loud-quiet dynamic but on a humongous scale, Mike Schiedt again walking the line between sheer hell and quiet tension and introspection. It’s as if the elements of the opening three tracks literally clear the path for ‘Marrow’, a truly ascendary track – at nearly twenty minutes long it is almost perfect, with the band at times sounding, I daresay, uplifting. It retains the Yob heaviness but rarely has doom of this ilk met such an air of freedom that is able to stick its head above the clouds with a sense of unusual triumphalism.
After naming ‘Atma‘ the best record of 2011, I wasn’t sure I could find a way if enjoying Yob even more, but when the hype you so often buy into actually turns out to carry substance, the results are rarely short of phenomenal.