Best New Music/SPIN Essentials/Albums of the Week
Agalloch – Ashes Against the Grain
Wikipedia will tell you that Agalloch operate in post-metal circles, exploring shoegaze and black metal styles, too. But the beauty — the ugly, violent, caressing, tumultuous wonder — of Ashes Against the Grain is that it simply doesn’t conform to any existing pigeonhole.
It’s loud. It can be extremely loud. Its vocals are screamed, almost wordless of delivery; yet they convey an undeniable emotion. The drums sound as if a thousand steeds are racing across the fiery planes of Hell, while above, the crust splits to reveal an endless blue-blackness punctured by flaming stars.
This is an album defined by abstracts. Its constituents, broken down, do not add up to anything revolutionary. Yet the assembly proves so electrifying that stepping away from a full play leaves one with the shakes.
Deathspell Omega – Paracletus
Paracletus, if anything, is more overwhelming than Fas – Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum. The roiling peaks of that album — say, “A Chore for the Lost” or “The Shrine of Mad Laughter” — are the resting temperature of this one. They have shaped a suite of songs into one pliable and massive 42-minute arc, one that is as easy to separate into distinct quadrants as the stream from a fire hydrant. Their anonymous frontman still screams euphoniously, leaning into long vowel sounds and open tones so that phrases like “The scorching heat of the furnace inside galvanizes” function as color more than as thought. (You could never discern the words without the aid of a lyric sheet, anyway.) They are a band that works best in colors, as the titles of the albums and the burning red of Paracletus’ cover attest: On this unbelievable LP, they visit an ecstatic sound world that resembles, as they put it on highlight “Abscission,” “The depths of abjection, a throne of manure.”
City of Caterpillar – City of Caterpillar
Somewhere between the decaying sounds of “And You’re Wondering How A Top Floor Could Replace Heaven” and the sonic hell of “A Heart Filled Reaction To Dissatisfaction,” I began to not only embrace City of Caterpillar-but completely believe in it. The transition lacks subtlety; one of dark foreboding that leads into harsh eruption of shrill screeches and exploding percussion. Unexpected, but such is life, as City of Caterpillar so deftly describe throughout the album’s 44-minute runtime. Conceptually, it encompasses the jovial, yet painful and ultimately fruitless search for perfection; a personal journey for beauty and grace mired by the pangs of failure and disappointment. Lofty subject matter for sure, but City of Caterpillar have crafted their magnum opus in such a way to completely invest the listener as each moment of struggle and sadness becomes completely lucid and believable.
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the Eye
Kayo Dot is a pretty polarizing band, and for every person gushing about the transcendental nature of its debut full-length, Choirs of the Eye, there’s a metal purist dismissing the group as another “hipster” act like Liturgy, and then going back to listening to something far more authentic (i.e. from Sweden). The problem with this particular distinction is that it’s based on an inherently flawed perception of a band that has far more in common with post-rock acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor than, say, Entombed.
Throughout the album, Toby Driver gives in to his inner Johnny Marr, offering deeper, prettier, more eclectic guitar tones. His lines are smeary with tremolo and delay, and the band seamlessly incorporates melancholic piano, harsh Godflesh-style noise bursts, spoken word, lush acoustic strums, and eerie samples. All of these disparate elements coalesce to make Choirs of the Eye an unsung classic of experimental metal.
Negura Bunget – OM
I expected OM to further strip back Negura Bunget to the point of depending on the same watery guitar sound as many a contemporary post-rock act. In other words, I was half expecting to really dislike this album. I was wrong. This album is not the result of Negura Bunget transforming their sound into something altogether more lightweight, nor does it see them become even more dependent on the sonic confines that won ‘N Crugu Bradului so many admirers from across the musical spectrum.
Instead, OM is overflowing with more ideas than any other Negura Bunget record to date. Guitarist and songwriter Edmond Karban clearly has plenty to get out of his system. First of all, this is easily Negura Bunget’s heaviest work to date. There are surprisingly frequent thrash riffs. The guitar tone more generally is less spectral than forceful, whilst also being exceptionally diverse. On opener “Țesarul de lumini” it switches from innocuous indie chords to Blut Aus Nord-esque hugeness to something mildly reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Post-rock style crescendos still appear throughout, but they are no longer the band’s defining feature. Instead the spine of the album is provided largely by its roaring tempos — drummer Gabriel Mafa gives a particularly excellent performance — and the album’s dominant aesthetic: darkness.
The Angelic Process – Weighing Souls with Sand
There will undoubtedly be talk of how The Angelic Process isn’t really a black metal band; that black metal purists will continue to think of them as “hipster metal” (which is one of the stupidest phrases I’ve ever heard in my life). There will also be comparisons to other bands that dabble in shoegaze and post-rock, but ultimately none of that matters when you write the kind of album The Angelic Process has. What matters is that Weighing Souls with Sand (the band’s first Profound Lore release) is re-writing the book and is hands down one of the finest pieces of art in years.
That’s what it is — haunting, distressing, and passionate art. While The Angelic Process is far from the first band to ever blend the multiple genres mentioned above together, Weighing Souls with Sand is the rare occurrence where it’s executed flawlessly and unpredictably. Basically, Weighing my Souls with Sand has my heart in a vice.
Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs
Favoring experimentation (rather than settling into the “blackgaze” sound) works well for Neige under the Amesoeurs mantle, especially since it was his critics that essentially coined the term “blackgaze.” Amesoeurs thrives on variety. For the first time on a Neige album, post-punk/goth synths make a welcome appearance, as does Audrey Sylvain’s fantastically melodic vocals on “Les Ruches Malades.” Meanwhile, drummer Winterhalter becomes the album’s overall highlight, having been given the opportunity to play more than just blast beats.
Where Alcest LPs may have favored torrents of guitar, Amesoeurs allow room for tunes and choruses to hold their own against — and even show up — all the usual atmospheric post-rock picking. That’s not to pit band members against each other, though; the one-and-a-half-minute instrumental that eases in “Recueillement” works because of the chemistry the lineup developed after nearly three years of playing together. Closer “Au Crépuscule de Nos Rêves,” the point at which the album’s genre-bending is at its clearest and most surprising, would clumsily see itself out and trip over the door jamb if not for the sort of singular, unified vision that powers Amesoeurs as a four-piece.
Stara Rzeka – Cien Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem
Cien Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem, the debut LP from Polish black-metal modifiers Stara Rzeka, sculpts the anxiety, torment, and potential release endemic to their genre into a crafty package that lasts about as long as an episode of Homeland or Mad Men. But despite its spans of roiling drums, serrated vocals, and brushfire guitars, this shouldn’t be mistaken as some wintry Scandinavian scree: It’s much softer and brighter than that, a notion broadcast well in advance by its electronic-folk hues and floral cover.
In fact, Stara Rzeka even push past the glut of grandiose United States black-metal acts who’ve risen to relative prominence in recent years. Instead, Cien Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem comes laced with post-rock grace and a pop-like accessibility. Nor are those elements sequestered from the black-metal bombardment: They are part of it, or, depending upon your perspective, it is part of them. The guitar on the krautrock-ish “Nächtlich Spaziergang Durch Klinger,” for instance, etches instantly hummable lines into and behind the electronic aura, telegraphing the wave-of-synth coda. The beginning of “Przebudzenie Boga Wschodu” radiates with its feedback drones and bucolic guitars, hanging a veritable “Now Open” sign over the browbeating that lies a few minutes ahead; when the song later downshifts from the tumult, singer Kuba Ziólek sticks around, his rasp a daring whisper suspended above the drift, the darkness cutting back into dusk.
His full-band peers often inspire tags like “cinematic” and “epic,” adjectives that seem to describe the size of the songs and the sudden feelings they evoke more than the structure of the music itself — see Deafheaven, a purportedly “cinematic” black-metal band whose records have never warranted such narrative-driven reductions. But with its majestic and scene-setting beginning (wait for the guitars to double on “Przebudzenie Boga Wschodu,” then for the drums to break) — and its tension-ratcheting antiphony between brutal and blissful – Cien Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem is practically filmic. With each new transition, you’re only waiting for the next one, a steady string of cliffhangers ferrying attention ever toward the end.
Weakling – Dead As Dreams
Dead As Dreams really is the sound of a band that wants it all. Weakling takes heaviness and melodiousness hand in hand. It takes the sunlight and marries it to its corresponding darkness. It takes the West Coast black metal scene and draws it even closer to the hipsterdom that sends many metal fans into a frenzy. All of these dichotomies were already becoming less and less bifurcated prior to Dead As Dreams’s release, but Weakling has made a uniquely compelling case that these changes should be happening faster. It’s not an easy goal; of the many qualities this record possesses, “acquired taste” is one of them. The contours of the ever-shifting music and the depth of John Gossard’s lyrics take their time to sink in. But give it time; sometimes the best music demands a lot of its listeners. Call it black metal, call it “post-black” metal, call it “hipster metal,” call it whatever you want. But Weakling’s audacity and artistry are hard to deny, which is but one of many reasons why Dead As Dreams is an essential listen, and one of 2000’s boldest works of art.
Explosions in the Sky – Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever
Not only is there nary a flaw to be found in Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die’s perfectly-sculpted structure, it’s also a journey album, epic in a way so few albums take the risk to be anymore. This is a disc that not only revolutionized indie as we know it, but breathed new life into post-rock, as well. These are some of the most hauntingly gorgeous guitar fireworks that the genre had produced in years, long before most of the players in other bands were to fall victim to cliches and mediocrity.
“Yasmin the Light” is fist-in-the-air majestic, churning through multiple movements loud and soft, ebbing and flowing and at last reaching ten stories tall in a flurry of drums and tremolo-wailing guitar. The more delicate tracks such as “The Moon Is Down” are crucial gaps of bittersweet tenderness laid between the triumphant explosions of thunder that pierce the album’s longer sections. The ominous burbling that introduces “Greet Death” segues perfectly into that track’s soaring theatrics, and the soul-searching monologue unfurling over the martial percussion of “Have You Passed Through This Night?” leads expertly into the album’s startling highlight, “A Poor Man’s Memory.” Truly, we close out as we began, with unfiltered glacial awesomeness.
01. Brought to the Water
03. Baby Blue
04. Come Back
05. Gifts for the Earth
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