Thursday, January 23, 2014

TBR Awards 2013: Uncanny surprises

Time has sadly run out of year 2013, but there are still plenty of crushing, melting, outstanding and ripping releases out there that I have not had the pleasure of hearing due to various reasons like lack of time, work commitments, household chores and so on. However, I have decided to put last year to rest and post fifteen albums that rocked my world and melted my guts. However, before I do that I decided to give you six uncanny surprises that that proven with repeated listens that they could pretty much enter my TOP 15 any day.

6. Grieving Age: Merely the Fleshless We and the Awed Obsequy (Solitude Productions)
(Death Doom Metal, Saudi Arabia)

I am not going to pretend that I was familiar with these guys before, cause I weren't. This is yet another link I clicked through a recommendation of a valued musician and another win. Grieving Age hails from Saudi Arabia, which is not too familiar with its metal scene and which I, unfortunately, do not know. While doing my homework I found out that there are only ten or so active metal bands listed from Saudi Arabia, but it could be there are more, I don't know. 

Grieving Age has been active since 2003 and their sophomore album carries the name monster Merely the Fleshless We and the Awed Obsequy. When I listened to first track on the album, I wasn't sure what was expecting me. To my surprise there are practically no Middle Eastern melodies or twists present on the album, because I for one surely expected that. That is not by any means a downside to it, it's just that such exotic and remote locality is surely bound to enrich their sound somehow I was thinking. What you get is topnotch, well produced and well crafted doom metal with death metal like vocals. The songs are extremely long-winded, burdensome and slow. It takes some attention and dedication to be fully mesmerized by these guys, but given the perfect surroundings like a cold, rainy and windy autumn night or a strenuous day at work with your brains ready to pop out pressing play on MTFWATAO might just be fix you need.

There are only five compositions on the album, but the entire album's duration is more than 105 minutes! Yes, that is nearly two hours of music, so the path you are about to embark is long and exhausting. The track names are so long and flamboyant that you will need a dictionary to find out what the heck is going on. Don't let those aspects fool you, there is a lot to like about this album. First of all, the production is heavy, clear and dynamic supporting the music swimmingly. Secondly the atmosphere is dark, moody and sturdy. Finally there are enough good ideas to keep the epic songs together and the listener focused. I have to admit though that sometimes it feels like you've just entered a big, massive black hole and you are just swirling in the pitch black darkness stranded, helpless and abandoned. Once the passage is over, you redeem yourself and feel rejuvenated: Till the Forlorn Opprobrious Malady Thrives Amongst the Stridulous Indigents We!

Stream the album here:

5. Inquisition: Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (Season Of Mist)
(Black Metal, Colombia)

I still remember when I first heard about Inquisition, it was only in 2011 when their previous album, Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm was released and getting year-end positions and ass-kicking reviews in the media. I wasn't too familiar with black metal (and am still taking babysteps), but I decided to check what all the fuzz is about.

The following captivates the band's style pretty much perfectly: Inquisition's style of Black Metal involves slow, deep and dark riffing combined with sudden tempo changes to faster sections based around blast beats and high-speed riffing; at times adding melodic solos. The classic Inquisition sound involves the combination of old school Thrash Metal-influenced riffs with darker and more chaotic Black Metal, primarily involving fast, tremolo picked minor-key guitar riffs, thus creating the trademark "Inquisition sound" (source What makes me cheer for these guys is the sheer dedication and immediate emotion the music gives you. To me their music is immediate fix for frustration or that extra push while working out, you cannot go wrong with all that blastbeat drumming. Speaking of Inquisition, you have to mention Dagon's monotonous and nasal vocal style that is reminiscent of Abbath from Immortal. That could piss off some of you, but the power lies in the ensemble and the ability to create durable and versatile atmosphere using only guitar and drums. Not many bands are able to pull that off 

The unholy duality of Dagon and Incubus (drums) has been slaying since 2002 and the results are pretty impeccable. Sadly I am not that familiar with the backcatalogue, but according to my research they have managed to put six stellar albums in their career so far. I am lucky to witness them live for the second time as they enter the stage on SteelFest in spring 2014 in Finland. I have my ticket and hotel reservation, so I am pumped and ready to go!

Stream the album below:

4. Nails: Abandon All Life (Southern Lord Records)
(Grindcore / Powerviolence, US)

Here's another band to enter my list that is pretty far from my normal comfort zone. Short, angry and punky, those aren't usually my cup of tea, but Nails (among others) has proved me wrong. Even the fact that a song could be like 23 seconds long and the entire album lasts only less than 20 minutes doesn't make me stray away from it. Trickery and hoax you say? This is powerviolence, a music style I knew literally nothing. The wikipedia defines it as raw and dissonant subgenre of hardcore punk and its style is closely related to thrashcore and grindcore. Sounds a bit too terminological?  Fair enough, but that sums up the music pretty well and powerviolence bears the mark of being socio-politically charged and iconoclastic. These guys aren't singing what's good about the world, they are pointing out the wrongs and the bads and give the finger to the government whenever needed.

I cannot imagine what it would feel to witness Nails live, but that is something I intend to do this summer as they have been added to the billing in Tuska Open Air. Luckily they should only need a twenty minute or half an hour slot as the music is so fierce, consuming and utterly devastating that the energy is bound to blast the roof of the tent (assuming they will play there) to kingdom come. Abandon All Life is packed with humongous riffs, neck-breaking energy and could set itself any peaceful, well-behaving house dad into testosterone pumping, sweating missile ready to explode in search of that outer body experience. Handle with care.

Stream the album below:

3. Fell Voices: Regnum Saturni (Analog Worship / Gilead Media)
(Black Metal, US)

One of the most memorable and uncanniest gigs I attend last year was Fell Voices and Ash Borer playing in club PRKL, Helsinki. To be completely honest, I went there to see Ash Borer but Fell Voices was a hidden bonus, a diamond in the rough I wanted to see too. The gig was everything I expected and more and made me so goddamn proud to be supporting the underground metal scene. There were only fifty or sixty similar thinking metalheads present, but the bands didn't seem to mind it. In fact over half of the crowd left buying the reasonable priced vinyls, CDs or t-shirts, so I am hoping they will return one day. My perfect evening ended with having a pic taken with K. from Ash Borer, simply perfect!

Fell Voices originates from Santa Cruz, California and Regnum Saturni is the third full length in their career. The album consists of only three songs, but since the running time is one hour we have another monster in our hands. At first I wasn't too keen on the album and almost dropped it from my powerplay list. Luckily I returned to it some six weeks ago and ever since that playcount and replay value has been increasing. Fell Voices' style could be described as spacey, transcendental and atmospheric black metal. The songs can take up to three or four minutes to have full force, but then the relentless drumming and merciless riffing takes over. To a layman the long and epic compositions that could run over 20 minutes could sound repetitive or boring, but once to pay attention to the texture and dynamic, you'll find out the thread. The drummer Mike is also in charge of vocal duties and doesn't really sing nor growl, he's more like distribution channel of emotions where the distant shouting or passionate cries fill in the missing blanks. It takes some time to get used to it, but once you are hooked there is no turning back. In fact they leave you wanting for more and there is some devilish plan urging you to return to the album spin after spin.

Stream the album below (pay what you will) and support the band:

2. Cloud Rat: Moksha (Halo Of Flies)
(Grindcore, US)

I still recall back in the 80's when I first listened to Détente's Recognize No Authority with my best friend, those punkish and absolutely murderous vocals floored the teenage boy completely. To my big surprise I experienced the exact same feeling over 25 years later when I pushed play on Moksha. I have absolutely no freaking idea what Madison Marshall's diet consists of, but she is violent, angry and absolutely authoritative. I haven't heard such passion and emotions in vocals for a long time and every time I return to the album I feel like being back in the army and have to stand up right and keep my stomach in.

Cloud Rat has only been active for three years and they originate from Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The line-up is Adrian (Drums), Rorik (Guitars) and Madison (Vocals) and Moksha is their sophomore album with approximately half an hour's running time. The entire album is like a oncoming avalanche or unstoppable bulldozer or hypnotizing tsunami: there is no way of stopping it. It will consume you, it will devour you and it will mutilate your guts. Moksha will violate your soul, tear out your soul and break your neck into bone splinters: it is the perfect album to fight oppression or loneliness or the cure for anger management. I am sold and surrender to its power over and over again.

Stream the entire album below:

1. Satan: Life Sentence (Listenable Records)

Satan plays heavy metal, would you believe that? Actually I was a bit surprised that I googled less than ten bands with that name. Apparently the record labels have probably cut down the number of Satan bands, cause I reckon the promotion would get tricky if the fans buy different Satan you're talking about. This Satan I am talking about hails from Newcastle, UK and has been formed in 1979 already. To my embarrassment it took almost 35 years for me to find them, but it's never too late and I am certain Satan is no exception to the rule: there are many 70's or 80's metal bands I still haven't heard of. Luckily it is easy to rectify that: when such awesome band comes along: see their tour schedule, go and see their gigs, buy their merchandise and go crazy!

Life Sentence is only the third album in the band's career and during the years they have been active under two separate names: Blind Fury and Pariah. Prior to knowing the band plays New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) I would have guess they play old school death metal. To my big surprise they are able to combine many of my favorite traditional heavy metal bands together and still sounding unique. The guitars are galloping Maiden style, the vocals are crisp and powerful Angel Witch style and there's an old school atmosphere à la Diamond Head, but they still sound Satan. Even the album was released in April 2013, the soundscape and atmosphere suggests it could have easily been 1987. There is instant headbanging likability in the songs and the replay value is spectacular: it only seems to get better with each listen. In the end what seals the deal for me is the absolutely superb songwriting. There is actually no bad song in the entire album, in fact there are several earworms and eargasms. Take Time To Die, Siege Of Mentality, Incantations or Testimony and you are forced to admit they all kick ass.

The biggest surprise was finding out this week Satan is playing Helsinki in April: bloody hell! This is something I need to witness and the anticipation of this gig milestone is already tingling my body. This is why I attend the gigs in the first place, they awake such strong emotions and send me flying backwards. I am ready, but I have to keep my body leashed.

Stream the album below: