We Must Obey’s Top Records of 2014

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Peter Clegg

Yob and Pallbearer – UK tour incoming!

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We Must Obey will be attending the Yob + Pallbearer tour when it lands in the UK a week from today, and right now is clearly a great time to be a fan of either band with new releases abound!

Clearing The Path To Ascend’ is an aptly titled album for what will undoubtedly be the crowning achievement for YOB, a band whose journey now nears two decades of creating music as commanding as it is cathartic. As is the YOB way, the tracks here don’t simply offer a vacuous glimpse into the already riff-soaked doom genre. These songs demand the tandem attention of mind, body, and soul – etching a mark across a sound that finds YOB as formidable and unequaled as they’ve ever been. True ascension requires a destruction of those barriers that prevent any movement forward. Unsurprisingly, YOB pummels any and all of these obstacles with absolute authority, clearing the way for a genuinely visceral listening experience and climbing upward into a realm that sets the band in a heavy metal place that has been and will always remain wholly their own.

Clearing The Path To Ascend‘ is released on 1st September via Neurot Recordings. You can stream it here: http://pitchfork.com/advance/523-clearing-the-path-to-ascend/

For Pallbearer, they have just released their second album, entitled ‘Foundations Of Burden‘, via Profound Lore.  This new album sees the present-day doom metal giants create a more expansive, advanced, crushing, and emotionally charged album that takes everything to the next level beyond its predecessor.
Musically, Foundations Of Burden sees the band strengthen their monolithic melodious structures of doom that have become synonymous with their signature sound. All while incorporating a much more progressive and musically challenging element to their anthems which compliment the huge epic melodies and harmonics even moreso. Where ‘Sorrow and Extinction‘ expanded the foundation which Pallbearer laid down with their demo, ‘Foundations Of Burden‘ morphs itself into a glorious new vision that is without doubt their most engaging work yet.

Listen to ‘The Ghost I Used To Be’ here: https://soundcloud.com/pallbearerdoom/pallbearer-the-ghost-i-used-to-be

Be sure to catch this amazing tour at one of the following venues:

Thursday 4 September 14 – Bristol The Fleece
Friday 5 September 14 – Manchester Roadhouse
Saturday 6 September 14 – Glasgow Audio
Sunday 7 September 14 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Monday 8 September 14 – London The
Underworld

YOB: Clearing The Path to Ascend: CD preorder bundles now available

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Image by James Rexroad

Two years after leveling the expectations of critics and listeners alike with ‘Atma‘, Portland doom bringers, YOB, prepare to unleash ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend‘, an aptly titled album for what will undoubtedly be the crowning achievement for a band whose journey now nears two decades of creating music as commanding as it is cathartic. As is the YOB way, the tracks here don’t simply offer a vacuous glimpse into the already riff-soaked doom genre. These songs demand the tandem attention of mind, body, and soul – etching a mark across a sound that finds YOB as formidable and unequaled as they’ve ever been. True ascension requires a destruction of those barriers that prevent any movement forward. Unsurprisingly, YOB pummels any and all of these obstacles with absolute authority, clearing the way for a genuinely visceral listening experience and climbing upward into a realm that sets the band in a heavy metal place that has been and will always remain wholly their own. 
 
Recorded at Gung Ho Studio in Eugene, notorious for its reserve of vintage equipment, alongside longtime collaborator/iconic sound-sage Billy Barnett, and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Beastmilk, Nails) at Audiosiege Engineering, YOB will release ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend‘ on CD and digitally via Neurot Recordings on 1 September, and on vinyl via Relapse Records on 2 September.

Clearing The Path To Ascend‘ preorder bundles are currently available:
For CD orders head here; and for special T-shirt bundles, click here
 
YOB will bring their riff domination to the UK/Europe, commencing on September 3rd, 2014 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. YOB will be joined by Pallbearer.
  

TOUR DATES WITH PALLBEARER IN SUPPORT:

Wed 3 Sept NL Utrecht Tivoli de helling
Thurs 4 Sept UK Bristol The Fleece
Fri 5 Sept UK Manchester Roadhouse
Sat 6 Sept UK Glasgow Audio
Sun 7 Sept UK Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Mon 8 Sept UK London The Underworld
Wed 10 Sept DE Dortmund FZW
Thurs 11 Sept NL Groningen Vera
Fri 12 Sept DK Aarhus Atlas
Sat13 Sept SE Gothenburg Truckstop Alaska
Sun 14 Sept NO Oslo Hostsabbat
Tues16 Sept FI Helsinki Tavastia
Wed 17 Sept SE Stockholm Slakthuset
Thurs 18 Sept DK Copenhagen Loppen
Fri 19 Sept DE Leipzig UT Connewitz
Sat 20 Sept PL Wroclaw Firlej
Sun 21 Sept DE Berlin Bi Nuu
Tues 23 Sept CZ Prague Klub 007
Wed 24 Sept AT Vienna Arena
Thurs 25 Sept AT Innsbruck PMK
Fri 26 Sept CH Winterthur Gaswerk
Sat 27 Sept IT Milan Lo-fi Club
Mon 29 Sept CH Lausanne Le Romandie
Tues 30 Sept DE Karlsruhe Jubez
Wed 1Oct FR Montpellier Black Ship
Thurs 2 Oct ES Barcelona Razzmatazz3
Fri 3 Oct ES Madrid Villamanuela
Sat 4 Oct PT Porto Amplifest
Sun 5 Oct ES Erandio Sonora
Mon 6 Oct FR Toulouse Le Dynamo
Tues 7 Oct FR Nantes Le Ferrailleur
Wed 8 Oct FR Paris Glazart
Fri 10 Oct GR Athens Kyttaro Club
Sat 11 Oct  BE Antwerp Desertfest Belgium

As a precursor to the release, YOB is offering up two ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend‘ video teasers here. Stay tuned for further YOB happenings to be announce in the weeks to come.
 
YOB on Facebook
Neurot Recordings
Neurot on Facebook

YOB sign for Neurot Recordings!

OREGONIAN DOOM METAL TRIO JOIN THE NEUROT RECORDINGS FAMILY

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Behold the following press release from Rarely Unable, bringing forth some exciting news on one of our favourite bands here at We Must Obey – PC

Neurot Recordings is pleased to welcome long-running Eugene, Oregon-based doom metal trio, YOB, to their expanding household of eclectic, thought-provoking music. The band – founding vocalist/guitarist Mike Scheidt, drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg – will release their seventh studio offering this Autumn preceded by an appearance at the illustrious Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands in April.
 
   Comments Scheidt of the recent union, “YOB is very happy to have signed to Neurot for our new album. Travis, Aaron and I agree that Neurosis is the epitome of forward-thinking heavy music, made with zero compromise. Our love for their music is total. Neurot’s dedication to putting out uncompromising music is no different. To have this opportunity to put an album out on their label is an honor that runs deep. We cannot wait to share our new music with Neurot and our friends worldwide.”
 
   Neurosis’ Steve Von Till notes, “This was meant to be. Neurot has always sought out to work with those who share in the purification of spirit through sound and who harvest their sound from originality and intensity. When I listen to YOB, see them leave it all on the stage, or share a conversation with them about life,  I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that they embody what Neurot stands for completely and we are so very honored that we get the opportunity to work together with them on their next album.
 
   Adds Scott Kelly, “YOB, as with all things that actually matter, there is only one. They have built their temple with a foundation concreted in absolute truth. The truth is the riffs, the truth is in the delivery, it’s in the unwavering commitment, and in the handshake and the look in their eyes. If you don’t know them, then you are fucking up your own lifes’ truth. There’s is nothing heavier on the face of this earth than this band. The Neurot Family is honored to be a part of legacy of this, the monolithic treasure of sonic achievement that is YOB.
 
Further details on YOB’s forthcoming new release to be unveiled in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. 
 
YOB might be one of the best bands in North America,” BEN RATLIFF: NEW YORK TIMES
 
YOB on Facebook
http://www.neurotrecordings.com
http://www.facebook.com/neurotrecordings

Best albums of 2012

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We’ve finally reached the end of 2012, and my has it been a blast. The greatest year in the UK’s sporting history. A supposed prophecy that was never realised. A glorious year for rock and metal and all its various forms.

The music this year has been so exceptional that its been harder than ever deciding on the final ten. As such, honourable mentions must go to the following:

Ginger – 555% (Round/Pledge Music)
Dope Body – Natural History (Drag City)
Eagle Twin – The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale (Southern Lord)
Burning Love – Rotten Thing to Say (Southern Lord)
Every Time I Die – Ex Lives (Epitaph)
Napalm Death – Utilitarian (Century Media)

All of which are records which you should check out, if you haven’t already, and they only missed the final cut by a whisker. Damn, if 2013 is better than this we will truly be spoilt.

Without further ado, we present our top ten albums of the year.

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10. Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Warner Bros)

The Sacramento crew continue to impress on album number seven, despite, for me, not reaching the stratospheric heights of ‘Diamond Eyes’ on this occasion. From start to finish its another wildly esoteric ride reaching soaring heights and dark depths, creating a new set of anthems that Deftones fans will sure echo throughout cavernous arenas well into 2013 and beyond. Tracks such as ‘Romantic Dreams’, ‘Entombed’ and ‘Tempest’ are absolutely lush, and there’s not many bands these days who can create the level of atmosphere around a song like Deftones can. There’s simply no stopping them right now. 

 

wpid-898529953-1.jpg9. Krallice – Years Past Matter (self-released) 

In a year which has seen Felix Baumgartner skydive from the stratosphere, and in a year where Voyager 1 is reached the interstellar medium, I have wondered what soundtrack would best embody a human odyssey into the far outer reaches of space. And no, I’m not talking about the Voyager Golden Record. Now a human venture going that far is not likely to happen in our time, our offspring’s time, or the next generation, or the next generation…but if it did, and we can preserve a vinyl pressing of Krallice’s ‘Years Past Matter’, then that voyage will go beyond anything what even Carl Sagan imagined. Maybe that’s an overexaggeration. But still, ‘Years’ is without question Krallice’s finest vision yet, where all out speed subsides slightly to a more bombastic and expansive approach. The artwork alone should tell you what a vast journey this is, and it doesn’t disappoint, whether it’s the propulsion into the interstellar void (‘IIIIIIIII’) or the thrilling closing 16-minute epic (‘IIIIIIIIIIII’).

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8. Gorod – A Perfect Absolution (Listenable)

I was perhaps one of the few slightly disappointed by French tech-deathers Gorod’s previous album ‘Process of a New Decline’, so I was particularly impressed by the results shown on ‘A Perfect Absolution’. Don’t mistake their inclusion in their list for one of mere marked improvement, because Gorod have never lacked the quality – there’s just something about this album in particular that had real oomph. In a year where people went nuts for The Faceless’ ridiculous aping of more celebrated progressive greats, Gorod put on a technical masterclass in death metal, knowing when to bring on bursts of speed, when to usher in groove phases, even shaking with a bit of flamenco that won’t have gone amiss to, say Athiest or Cynic. All with excellent skill and precision. Lyrically, it all centres on 10th Century Kiev. Jolly good! All in all Gorod ought to be a bigger name in these circles, and it’s their noticeable inclusion on next year’s Bonecrusher Fest (with Job for a Cowboy) that has got me excited for 2013 already.

wpid-Converge-All-We-Love-We-Leave-Behind-album-cover.jpg7. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph) 

After the guest-laden ‘Axe to Fall’, which for my liking didn’t fire on all cylinders, Converge returned with the excellent ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ to the widespread critical acclaim they’re surely used to by now. A searing block of molten anger, despair and reflection, the desperate on-the-edge approach to their craft is what continues to set Converge apart from everyone else. I truly felt like I’d gone seven rounds with Ballou, Newton and co after the first three tracks, and how the rest of the album developed delivered knockout punch after knockout punch, even during the ocean drift of ‘Coral Blue’. A superb record from a band still unashamedly as energetic as when they began. Youngsters, take note.

 

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6. Ufomammut – Oro: Opus Primum (Neurot) 

High things were expected of Ufomammut following their switch to Neurot Recordings, and boy oh boy oh boy oh boy did they deliver. Many people seem to prefer the second, slightly leaner part of ‘Oro’ – ‘Opus Alter’ – to ‘Opus Primum’, but for me, the longer, more intense ‘Primum’ is the power element of this couple. Every thick groove oozes through swathes of abstract elements, spoken words and psychedelic trips, further empowered by the band’s visual collaborators, Malleus whose images made ‘Oro’ even more hypnotizing. The album’s third track, ‘Infearnatural’, is particularly embodying of this description, where guitarist Urlo delivers an echoey chant before landing back into the sweet, slow, crushing doom groove. By far the most inebriating ride of the year, ‘Oro’, and in particular ‘Opus Primum’, not only lived up to the hype; it squashed it flat too!

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5. Neurosis – Honor Found In Decay (Neurot)

An album I got around to too late to publish a full review for before the turn of the year, but undoubtedly deserving of its spot on this list. Scott Kelly has immersed himself in numerous projects since the last Neurosis album, ‘Given to the Rising’, and especially so in the last year; but none is more immersive and rewarding as his main band’s latest. Everyone’s got their own take on the best Neurosis album, and while I don’t rate this as high as, say ‘Enemy of the Sun’, its still pretty darn close to their best – and that is leagues above many other bands’ best. An enthralling journey through darkness and doom, ambience and hush, there’s many a fine moment to behold – ‘My Heart in Deliverance’ in particular stands out as one of the songs of the year, not just the album itself. As always, completely encapsulating.

Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light4. Woods of Ypres – Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light (Earache)

It was the album that was supposed to launch Woods of Ypres towards the mainstream, a new beginning. The tragic accident that took singer and founder David Gold’s life at 31 means not only a premature termination of a potentially commercially successful band, but that ‘Woods 5: Grey Skies and Electric Light‘ feels like more than just another album. It’s doomy metal with a few less of the black metal pervading their sound on previous releases touches, but with songwriting and musicianship par excellance. Throughout the fragility of life and its tipping point into death are lyrically displayed, with a sadly prophetic feel to it all. But what a final album to end on, with tracks such as the slightly tongue-in-cheek ‘Career Suicide (Is Not Real Suicide)’ and the poignant funeral march of ‘Kiss My Ashes (Goodbye)’ showcasing exactly how great a loss Gold is to metal in general.

wpid-Between-the-Buried-and-Me-Parallax-II.jpg3. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence (Metal Blade)

The juggernaut that is Between the Buried and Me shows no sign of slowing down, now on their seventh album barely into their thirties. And if ‘The Parallax II: Future Sequence’ is anything to go, then they’re maturing very well indeed. Those Pink Floydian-tendencies seem stronger than ever in the quintet, as ‘Parallax II’ is a space-opera deluxe from start to finish, continuing the story that began on 2011’s ‘Parallax I: Hypersleep Dialogues’ EP. Every second is thoroughly compelling, twisting through dream-like melodies, frenetic riff-fests, ambience, blastbeats, and those oddball moments which you’re either a fan of or not. I fall firmly in the first category. Everything truly comes together on this record, with ‘Silent Night Parliament’ and the reprise of ‘Goodbye to Everything’ being a fitting epic finale worthy of stadiums, not clubs. A wonderful album set in glorious spaaaaaaaaaace. 

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2. High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis (E1 Music)

2012 was in many ways the year of Pike – specifically for his recorded ventures and rereleased material, if not specifically the spell in rehab from which he has emerged victorious. Pike’s pre-HoF band Sleep were being celebrated by the rerelease of ‘Dopesmoker’, and indeed the early HoF days were being relived through the rerelease of ‘The Art of Self Defense’, but if ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’ showed anything, it was that Pike and his crew are more than capable of recreating that superb form. Previous High on Fire Records have ranged from anything to brilliant, to…well, alright I suppose. ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’ was something else. The most varied HoF record yet, it drew heavily on the fictional grimoire authored by Robert Block and picked up by H.P. Lovecraft, styled on an idea Pike derived about the Immaculate Conception and time travel, and featured many a centrepiece moment, whether the Jeff Matz-led instrumental ‘Samsara’, so evocative of the great Cliff Burton, or the truly majestic ‘King of Days’, one of Pike’s finest vocal performances to date. The traditional power drive of the band is always present, but the varied approach to their latest record makes it their most essential since ‘Blessed Black Wings’.

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1. Panopticon – Kentucky (Handmade Birds/Pagan Flames)

We already saw evidence in 2011 of US black metal coming to the fore with acts like Wolves in the Throne Room providing undeniably transcending moments and Liturgy shaking things up with their divisive take on the genre, along with the Krallices and Nachtmystiums of America doing very well indeed. This year, it has further aged into a fine creature, showing it is capable once again of further breaking any shackles that confined the genre. No one act – or indeed, one man – showed that more than Austin Lunn, aka A. Lundr, aka Panopticon, on the breathtaking fourth album ‘Kentucky’. 

Folk and metal may not be unusual bedfellows any more, but to take a further strain of folk, bluegrass, and to attempt to meld it to black metal is daring by anyone’s standards. To truly pull it off requires a masterstroke. Lunn does that, and so much more. It’s the ultimate love letter to his home state, from the two bluegrass instrumentals that bookend the album, every bit as beautiful and evocative of the images of Blenheim Forest contained in the vinyl releases, to his depiction of the issues that Kentucky struggled with through its history – the massacre of Cherokee Indian women and children at Ywahoo Falls (‘Bodies Under The Falls’), and in the main, the story of the toil, the uprising, and the demise of coal miners in the 1930s. The heavy songs appear between the traditional miner songs that are covered here, and you’d be a soulless individual not to want to sing along to ‘Which Side Are You On’. It absolutely nails the passion of the miners in that time period – partly achieved through samples – but more to the point, it becomes utterly flooring. The sprawling ‘Killing the Giants as they Sleep’ combines with a truly haunting rendition of ‘Black Waters’ that will emotionally drain you, leaving just the title track jam to pick you back up as the credits roll.

Its testament to Lunn’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist that he doesn’t sound sloppy at all, not on one single instrument. He can match any extreme drummer for speed and ability, adds a hardcore-esque buzz to those guitars that distinguish it just slightly Panopticon’s sound away from traditional black metal, and the flute that he plays over the top of the heavier tracks completely works, every time. Admittedly, this heavy brew won’t be for everyone, and no doubt there’s some smug so-and-so’s out there who won’t be able to get off their elitist pedestals long enough to truly appreciate this. Their loss. ‘Kentucky’ is unquestionably the boldest statement of creativity in 2012, a fantastic snapshot of the Bluegrass state, of how far metal has progressed, and what it has achieved over the course of forty plus years.

Peter Clegg

Ufomammut – Oro: Opus Alter

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Ufomammut
Oro: Opus Alter
Neurot

The indelible and esoteric trio from Italy known as Ufomammut have already dropped one stunner on us this year, the first part of this two-part trip, ‘Oro: Opus Primum‘, and as promised, the second part, ‘Opus Alter‘ now greets our ears.

It’s impossible not to compare ‘Opus Alter‘ with ‘Primum‘, unfair as it seems. It’s more than a companion piece, its a continuation of ‘Oro‘s theme. And that feels evident as this latest part progresses. Opening track ‘Oroborus’ features a groove-shaking riff that only changes nearly four minutes in for another riff, going round and around like the self-consuming serpent of lore, with some effects designed to unsettle just slightly. Repetition seems to be a theme running through ‘Oro‘; the aptly-titled ‘Sublime’ utilizes a build-up into one cracking riff and then back out again, while ‘Luxon’ is basically a reprise of ‘Infearnatural’ from ‘Primum‘. It seems to feel more immediate than ‘Primum‘ too, with less of the slow brooding and a little more forward purpose. Any questions asked about the truth that statement are firmly answered when ‘Deityrant’ brings down the curtain on ‘Oro‘ with a straightforward verve and a penchant for grooviness.

Overall, I feel as though I can’t resist a comparison with ‘Primum‘, and with that said, ‘Alter‘ is just a shade behind its predecessor in terms of its overall quality – but still a fantastic album in its own right, and in its entirety, ‘Oro‘ is nothing short of quintessential.

Peter Clegg

Ufomammut – Oroborus

Buy ‘Oro: Opus Alter‘ here

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