Dec 182014

 

Five days have passed since I compiled the last round-up of news and new music. I’ve seen and heard many things I would have preferred to write about as they were appearing, but I’ve been otherwise occupied with year-end lists — not writing them myself, of course, but doing the much more important work of embedding album art and song streams and currecting typoz. This takes time, and after doing it for more than a hundred different albums over the space of five days, my brain now has the consistency of porridge.

So, to give my brain a chance to gel again, I’ve taken a break from my immensely important editorial duties and collected the following items for your entertainment (and mine). Though these notices are not all timely, I believe they are all worthy of attention.

KEEP OF KALESSIN

What you see above is the gatefold album art for Epistemology, the new album by Norway’s Keep of Kalessin, which will be released on February 16 by Indie Recordings. The artwork was chosen by the band based on a contest in which more than a hundred artists submitted designs.

Dec 182014

 

(Andy Synn’s five-part retrospective on the year in metal continues with his list of the “Critical Top 10″. Previous installments on the “Great”, the “Good”, and the “Disappointing” albums can be found here, here, and here.)

So there’s just two more lists left this week, and then I’m (almost, maybe, possibly, ok not really…) done rounding up this past year in metal.

To differentiate between the two, I’ve dubbed them (as in previous years), the “Personal Top 10” and the “Critical Top 10”, as I’ve taken a slightly different approach to compiling each one. The “Personal” list is, as you might have guessed, simply a list of my ten favourite albums of the year, which simply gives an insight into my own personal tastes and preferences, whereas the “Critical” list is where I’ve tried to be as impartial as possible, and really select albums which I think I could (semi)objectively justify as being the year’s best.

However, this year I’ve made the decision not to explicitly rank the “Critical Top 10” albums – partially because I was having enough trouble just slimming my initial list of candidates down to just 10 in the first place, and partly because I’ve decided to try and do things slightly differently this year – and instead I’ve tried to focus more on providing what I think is a cultural (and critical) snapshot of the year, selecting ten albums, from across the length and breadth of the metal spectrum, that I think embody the spirit and variety of the genre, as well as being amongst the best that 2014 has had to offer.

Think of it like a time-capsule of the year in metal, with me trying to select ten representatives that future generations will be able to look back on with a mixture of awe and incredulity.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. After the jump, my selections for ten of the best, most critically praised albums of 2014!

Dec 172014

 

Bloodmoon released their debut album Voidbound near the end of last year on CD and tape, but it has now been remastered by James Plotkin for re-release on vinyl via Black Voodoo Records. I missed the album when it first came out, but have now had the chance to hear the vinyl remaster. The music is really unusual and really impressive, so much so that we’re happy to provide a platform for everyone else to hear the album as well.

The record is only three songs long, but the first two of those are monsters — with “Voidbound” coming in at nearly 18 minutes and “Back World” at more than 13. Even the shorter closing track “The Singing Flame” tips the scales at more than 7 minutes.

Unusual song lengths of this kind are often a sign of great ambitions. Unless your specialty is droning loops, filling such extravagant spaces with music that captures and holds the listeners’ attention is no mean feat. As an artist, you have to have something to say — something that merits all that time — and you have to say it well. There’s no question Bloodmoon are musically ambitious, and there’s also also no question they’ve got talent to match their aims.

Dec 172014

 

Twenty-five years on since their spawning in some Finnish hell pit, Archgoat are as bestial, as primordial, as blasphemous and unrepentant as ever. The proof is in their new album, The Apocalyptic Triumphator, from which we bring you the premiere of a barbaric new song: “Congregation of Circumcised“.

For a band whose roots in the underground go back a quarter-century, they have recorded only two other full-length albums, 2006′s Whore of Bethlehem and 2009′s The Light-Devouring Darkness. (their last EP, reviewed here, was Heavenly Vulva (Christ’s Last Rites) in 2011.) This was due in part to the band’s decision to become dormant for almost 11 years, submerging in 1993 and resurfacing in 2004. But if their releases have been few and far between, every one of them has made a mark. The new one may be the best yet.

As you’ll hear on this new song if you’re unfamiliar with the band, Archgoat have a distinctive and relatively unusual sound for a black metal group. Their strength is in mid-paced and even crawling tempos, and the mood of the music is often shrouded in a heavy cloak of doom. Angelslayer vomits forth his lyrics in deep, noxious croaks and grunts. Sinisterror’s drumming rarely reaches pyrotechnic levels of speed.  Their brand of ferocity shares almost as much DNA with death metal as with black.

Dec 172014

 

(Our old pal Ben C. from Church of the Riff has surfaced once again to put a smile on our faces and raucous music in our earholes.)

Well fuck. I did it. I wrote something for the first time in, uhhhhh, a while? Yeah, a while. Y’see, this year I graduated university and got hit with this real life thing, so my internet time got dragged behind the barn and shot like a sick dog. It doesn’t help that my day job has me staring at a computer screen all day like a slack-jawed monkey, so the last thing I want when I get home is more screen time.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean I didn’t find plenty of kickass tunes through the year, 12 of which are the subject of this list. It’s not all metal and there is clean singing but hopefully I’ve highlighted some new bands you haven’t heard before and might enjoy.

Dec 172014

 

(As part of our year-end LISTMANIA series we present Andy Synn’s annual column about albums that failed to live up to his expectations. His preceding lists of the year’s “Great” and “Good” albums can be found here and here.)

For those of you unware of this, we don’t tend to go “negative” here at NCS. In fact I’m pretty sure this particular post is probably the most overtly “negative” thing we publish all year.

So, because I realize that this could ruffle some feathers, and runs somewhat counter to the site’s ethos which prevails for the other 364 days of the year, I thought it best to provide a few guidelines about how to read this post. And hopefully avoid any hurt feelings or shit-stirring as a result!

1. Just because I think these albums are “Disappointing” doesn’t mean you have to. I’m just providing an alternative viewpoint and, I hope, some reasonable justification for why I feel this way.

2. Just because I’ve rated these albums as “Disappointing” doesn’t equate to “Bad” – although some of them definitely are. Some of them are just disappointing when compared to the standards at which the band usually perform. Some of them see the band regressing, or spinning their wheels, and are thus deemed “Disappointing” in the overall context of their career.

3. It’s often difficult to communicate tone of voice over the internet, so please don’t read this as me gloating or glorifying in a band’s (perceived) mistakes. I’m not doing this to be controversial, or to make myself feel big or clever, nor am I trying to “troll” our readers, or any of the bands involved. Ultimately these are all bands I legitimately love/like myself, and the fact that these albums/EPs are a disappointment hits me as a fan just as much as it hits any of you.

4. If you’re the type to fly completely off the handle into an apoplectic rage just because someone else doesn’t think that album x, y, or z is the masterpiece you think it is… maybe don’t read this column? Again, I’m just providing an honest statement of opinion, in order to provoke debate and discussion – not a shit-flinging flame-war.

5. Please re-read point 4.

And there we have it. Hopefully that lays out a bit more clearly the why of this particular column. Now, onto the what.

Dec 162014

 

(In this post Comrade Aleks presents an interview with Lukáš Kudrna of the Czech doom band Quercus, whose latest album was released this past summer.)

The Czech doom scene is an unexplored and dark segment of the underground. The honorable Dissolving of Prodigy have gone, and such stubborn newcomers as Et Moriemur are a very rare example, so I was very surprised by the fact of a new Quercus release. This project has a thirteen-year-long history, and its last work Postvorta was released in 2007. One way or another Quercus has returned with another piece of avant-garde and enigmatic funeral doom. Lukáš Kudrna, a constant author of Quercus, is ready to tell the story of his new record Sfumato.

*******

Hail Lukas! Quercus was silent for about 7 years. What is the reason for such a long hiatus and returned the band to activity?

Hallo Aleks. I and my brother in doom — we recorded lot of albums with our main band UMBRTKA, almost 10 CDs in 7 years. And then we had a break for a short time with Umbrtka, so we made slower drums and a new album started to rise… Someone said that Quercus is a slowed down Umbrtka.

Dec 162014

 

(Here is NCS writer DGR’s year-end list, preceded by a post title that he made himself, except for the commas.)

Coming up with an end-of-the-year list is always the most stressful thing for me, and 2014 was no different. It usually involves me combing through the reviews and going, “God, what the fuck even came out this year?!”, before I really start hashing something together.

Multiple events take place as I do this as well. I almost always wind up throwing onto the list a disc that came out the previous year — in fact, I’m still worried I might have let one slip by. I usually wind up letting the thing get way out of control, but I guaranfuckingtee you that the moment I publish it, I’m going to be putting one or two more albums retroactively on this list in the comments — as if it’s some sort of justice.

2014 was an interesting year. I found so much music that I enjoyed this time, and a lot of it not by bands that I listen to super-regularly. It was a lot of groups really coming into their own this time, or bands that, while good before, just put out massive releases. I know my top ten could start a couple arguments for being mainstream as fuck, but that tends to be my listening taste. I’m like a dog with a set of keys. They’re shiny and I love them, just make them jingle again.

Dec 162014

 

(We interrupt our seemingly endless series of year-end lists to bring you a video premiere by a band whose 2014 album is cropping up on many of them — with an introduction by Austin Weber.)

Let’s be honest, as far as metal releases go in 2014, few have been as praised and visible throughout numerous year-end lists as Artificial Brain’s Labyrinth Constellation. Thus, the remainder of this year shall be renamed The Year of the Brain. And for good reason! Getting to see them live this year was a mind-blowing experience for me.

While I don’t want to re-hash what I said in my review, I can sum it up as a highly creative album that keeps aggression and white-hot intensity at the forefront in spite of its progressive nature, keeping things oddly catchy while making sure each song has its own identity, effortlessly worming its way into your skull. A lot of metal critics pussy out on putting death metal releases on year-end lists, so imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw that Labyrinth Constellation has already appeared on so many. Not only that, but another big reason this is The Year of the Brain is because the band were featured in a clip on the CBS show Elementary; and hell, even Lucy Liu says the band’s name in the clip!

Dec 162014

 

(Here’s Part Two of Andy Synn’s five-part series on his reflections about metal albums released in 2014. His list of the year’s “Great” albums appeared here yesterday.)

What separates the truly “Great” from the merely “Good”? A variety of things really. Sometimes it’s not much at all. Some of these albums actually come within a hair’s breadth of achieving true greatness, while others stumble a little more obviously along the way.

It could be that they’re too long, or too short… too ambitious, or not ambitious enough… or just in some way lacking that singular spark which defines true greatness.

That being said, each of these albums is, in their own way, a damn fine listen, visceral, intense, and a worthy addition to anyone’s collection – just because they’re not defined here as one of the truly “Great” albums of the year, doesn’t mean they’re not very, very, good.

And some of these albums are definitely very good.

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