We’ve finally reached the end of the year. All other rock and metal sites have splurged their favourite releases this year as they do every other year, without due consideration for the remainder of the year as how, as the number of new releases dwindle, they suddenly snap and declare their hand. I like to use the remainder of the year assessing the really good releases, only to fall in line with the rest of them come the 30th and 31st December every year.
I digress. I’ve long held my disdain for those who insist the year ends in November or that we should look at the overall picture in May. The fact is, the art of the short release continues to be strong in the age of Bandcamp, Soundcloud and increasing independence. Who needs a record label these days, people might say? Well, record labels are still important – many of the labels attributed to the top 10 releases on this list could be considered fledging, but they are cornerstones of the underground, as they always have been, and provide an increasingly useful platform for bands to get off the ground. As for the bands themselves, 2013 has been a cracking year; among the bands I haven’t included here are no less worthy for their absence; various UK bands including Burden of the Noose, Gunfinger, Sectioned, Death Tripper/Meatpacker, to name but a few, all came close to inclusion here, but in the end, I felt this little lot have provided the highlights of the short release/split calendar for the year.
A little note as well before we proceed in that I’m operating a one release per list rule for this top 10. This is mainly to deal with the fact that Corrupt Moral Altar have been particularly prolific and awesome this year and I felt it necessary and fair to decide between ‘Luciferian Deathcult’ and ‘Whiskey Sierra’ for the inclusion of one or the other here. I wanted ten bands to receive attention on this list, and ten you shall have! So without further ado, here is We Must Obey’s top shorties and splitters of 2013:
10. Famine – A Hand of Sore Thumbs (Reagent)
Famine only emerged very recently but already they’ve got the promise to be one of the key bands on the UK grind/powerviolence scenes. ‘A Hand of Sore Thumbs’ excels purely through eschewing the rulebook slightly and incorporating hardcore and crossover elements to their sound, case in point the wonderfully titled and structured ‘Sold Bowels (Saved Owls)’. There’s short songs but nothing under a minute, and that helps give Famine a distinction before the confines of the usual expected microwaved shrieks and grunts. Not many people know about them now but with a spot at ‘Kin Hell Fest 2014 confirmed, that will soon change as their potential grows.
9. Cult of Luna – Vertikal II (Indie)
For a companion piece to one of the year’s outstanding albums its quite possible that ‘Vertikal II’ could have really fallen into the category of ‘unnecessary’ as a lot of companion pieces to conceptual works seem to be. Yet Cult of Luna successfully avoided this malaise in actually creating a work that stands up more than adequately on its own. It’s quite long for an EP – there’s only four tracks over the thirty minute running time – but it again shows why the Swedes are so good at combining atmospheric and electronic elements to their cauldron of post-sludge metal. The opener ‘O R O’ leads off perfectly from the closing ‘Passing Through’ from ‘Vertikal’, gradually building with guitars, effects and clean vocals, before descending into harsher territory in the second half. From there the EP is awash with pulsating atmospherics and repetitive structures, all deceptively hypnotising, in keeping with the dark tunnel aesthetics of the album theme as a whole, topped off with a Justin Broadrick remix of the whopping ‘Vicarious Redemption’ into nine minutes, pushing dub and electronica into the mix and making the track more accessible than its previous 17-minute length, and managing to still run the gamut of emotions and moods throughout. Its funny that Broadrick is involved here – as much as ‘Vertikal II’ is at times in debt to Broadrick’s stylings, it’s very much a Cult of Luna release – cold, dark, shimmering and sometimes foreboding. An outstanding release that stands tall on its one as it does with its predecessor.
We didn’t get around to reviewing this release, however you can buy at the official Cult of Luna merch site
8. Gets Worse – Negative (Hygiene/Evil Purple Bastard)
This is another record, like ‘Vertikal II’, that I sadly didn’t give any attention to when it was released, and every time I tried to get around to reviewing it I got sidetracked. So here goes: Gets Worse don’t do anything new with powerviolence, but what they do is do it really well, and ‘Negative’ is a kick arse statement, with no nonsense lyrics from decrying moshpit fashionistas, to taking out yobs and being surrounded by idiots – to sum it all up lightly. A more than welcome addition to the fervent Leeds grind/powerviolence scene.
We didn’t review this one either, so stream it below, and buy/download it here.
7. Iron Witch – Hangover Suicide 7” (Endtyme)
The Scouse new kings of sludge have continued to improve and ‘Hangover Suicide’, a two-track 7” (or three-track download) released way back towards the beginning of this year, is testament to their devastating ability to knock out a heavy slow groove and punch it with knuckledusters time and time again. The opener ‘Death Is The Colour’ was a particular display of such power, delivering hit after hit with its muddy furrowed riff, and ‘Hangover Suicide’ was another example of their ceaselessly raging nihility. Superb production by Bri Doom makes this essential – it doesn’t do anything too differently by the ‘Witch book but it reinforces and improves what they do – and the result is as caustic and definitive as ever.
6. Black Veins – The Cycle Will Cease to End (Speedowax)
The Birmingham trio have followed on excellently from 2012’s ‘…And Hell Followed’ with this scorching five track that really deserves to be heard and applauded by many. Listening to this, it’s hard to believe that the members are still teenagers as they display a maturity in their sound beyond their years. Expanding on their sound here with a few more atmospheric elements but providing the heavy crushing riffs in more than equal measure, its often dark and chaotic hardcore, displayed all too appropriately during ‘Collapse’. The guys are believed to be working on their debut album which will surely be one to look out for in 2014.
5. Corrupt Moral Altar – Whiskey Sierra (Dead Chemists)
Corrupt Moral Altar came screeching in at the beginning of the year with their most excellent debut ‘Luciferian Deathcult’. That heralded what was to be a rapid rise within underground ranks for the ‘supergroup’, containing members of Malevolent Creation, The Day Man Lost, and Magpyes among others. As stated at the top of this post, ‘Luciferian Deathcult’ misses out on this particular list, as for me, ‘Whiskey Sierra’ is just about the superior of the two. It has all the attributes that makes the terrifyingly snarling former release great, and ups them a notch in intensity. The title track is shouted in the chorus with memorable gang vocal authority, and ‘Lord’ is a death-track rollercoaster that careers around at ludicrously heavy pace before careening off the rails into wild sludge abandon. They picked the best two tracks from their ‘Needle Drugs’ demo to remaster and the end result is a record that justifies their rapid rise from extreme supergroup to being one of the UK’s nastiest, scuzziest bands.
4. Vit –The Dry Season (Handshake Inc.)
Black metal these days has long emerged from the chill of the freezing moon, evil worship and corpse paint. Nowadays it is a vibrant, flourishing fjord of activity, from Scandinavia to the US and indeed the world. Vit are one such example of this – ‘The Dry Season’ begins with one of the most crushing pieces of blackened doom metal ever to impact, in the shape of ’16 Bodies’, and finishes with a country/bluegrass session in the vein of Panopticon (whose sole member A.Lundr features on this release). Its more than just a worthy follow-up to their debut LP – simply titled ‘–‘. It’s proof of how crushing, yet in someways beautiful, black metal can be.
3. Trippy Wicked & The Cosmic Children of the Knight – Underground (Superhot)
The three piece from St. Albans had a penchant for writing sleazy stoner rock songs in an experimental vein that had seen them gain some steady attention, but in amongst the songs about drinking, girls and the good life in general were some interesting tales exploring heavier themes – ‘Going Home’ from the album of the same name a good case in point. Here on ‘Underground’, they go full tilt at a sci-fi theme and in the process dive headfirst into full of sludge rock. Five tracks of pure doomy sludgy goodness – the highlight being ‘Echoes Return’, with its memorable chorus of ‘I find it hard to believe in you today…’ that will resonate for weeks. Ironically, it’s the one track that deals with personal themes, but the sci-fi element runs right through the EP, including the psychedelic instrumentals ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Discoveries’, complete with wicked artwork from Dan Schooler. It personally took me a while to get into this release, but without question it is the best release from the band to date – thoroughly awesome from start to finish and a mark of potentially the sign of things to come from the band.
We never reviewed this, so please stream it below. You can purchase it here.
2. Vestiges/Panopticon – split (The Flenser)
This was truly one of black metal’s finest moments (along with Vit) as far as I’m concerned this year. It again exemplifies why US black metal is at the forefront of the evolution of the genre, with two fine exponents of it. Vestiges here showed how to use ambience and minimal percussion to build into a lonely atmosphere, in keeping with their theme of ‘nature’s reclamation of the earth’. They were new to me at the time but having experienced them further, ‘VII’ and ‘VIII’ are superior chapters added to their quietly growing reputation. On the flip side, Austin Lunn (A.Lundr), aka Panopticon, who last year provided the year highlight that was ‘Kentucky’. Here again he putting his multi-instrument ability through rigorous paces and provides an atmospheric, eruptive and impassioned performance on ‘A Letter’ and ‘Eulogy’, as well as a riproaring cover of Suicide Nation’s ‘Collapse and Die’. This is the definitive split release of the year, still available as a free download with a vinyl option via The Flenser. Get on it now.
1. Vodun – Eat Up the Sun (Superhot)
Invasion seemed to disappear within the ethers of their own mysticism and thus it wasn’t just a pleasant surprise when two of them re-emerged in the voodoo-inspired trio Vodun. It was a revelation. The grainy recording at the beginning of the title track sets the tone but it’s the opening riff which captures most attention at first, instantly falling into a heavy groove before their chanteuse Oya unleashes her soulful vocals.
There isn’t a bad track on the EP – there’s a short interlude and the instrumental ‘Mawu’ that appears just before the phenomenal closer ‘Zaka’, but otherwise, its straight-up rocking, riffing and rolling from start to finish and those breathers serve to add to the atmosphere that the band’s very imagery and aesthetic holds a bright candle over. ‘Red Flag’ is stellar, fast, hungry, the instrumental keyboard driven section an almost hallucinogenic thrill ride. Other tracks, such as ‘Aida Wedo’ contain just enough verve and swagger to almost shake to, but mainly to rock out to the supreme riffs on display, and indeed to Oya’s rallying cry of ‘Whatever happens we will never back down’. Indeed, she sounds just as angry as she does soulful when shouting ‘Step off! Right off!’ during ‘Zaka’ before its doomy and enchanting closure looms. The main thing though is that, for however much projection there is on the band’s voodoo image, is that underneath it packs an eclectic, tightly knit band that forcibly demands you jam to every riff, to every tempo change, and to realise its full power.
I didn’t jape in my original review when I suggested they’re good enough for ‘Later…with Jools Holland’. As a man approaching my 30’s, I’m admittedly opening up to other stuff, yet I appreciate when a heavy act appears, be hit a big gun like Metallica or an up and comer like Radkey. This is the sort of thing that would draw me into sitting through the boring stuff. ‘Eat Up The Sun’ captures everything I like about what fringe mainstream music can be, yet is undeniably borne of the members time carefully crafting their venture in the catacombs of the UK scene. Maybe Vodun will reach that level, maybe they won’t. But theirs is a cult that you will fall to your knees for. All hail Vodun. Vodun be hailed.