(So far this week, NCS writer Andy Synn has provided his lists of 2013’s “Great” and “Good” albums, and now he identifies seven that disappointed him.)
And now, in many ways, the big one. The one guaranteed to cause more controversy, flame-wars, and outright despair than both the others combined.
The thing to bear in mind is a) this is just my opinion, as a (so-called) critic, and as a major fan of metal music, and b) just because they’re disappointing doesn’t necessarily make them terrible. After all, we tend not to even bother with the bad albums here at NCS. It just means that something was missing – something significant enough to leave each of the albums here with a bitter aftertaste of what could, or should, have been.
This is probably the most negative we get here at the site, but I think, as the year draws to a close, it’s important to have at least one entry like this to try and establish some balance and some context for what we’ve been listening to over the past twelve months.
Now… prepare yourselves… I present to you – alphabetically – the seven albums which most disappointed me this year.
Dark Tranquillity – Construct
In all honesty, there’s not too much I can say here. I know a LOT of people who feel the same way as I do about this one. It’s arguable that the band’s post-Damage Done sound has been in danger of growing stale for years now. Certainly, I found Fiction to be a major let-down, and although We Are The Void contains some of their strongest post-DD material in my opinion, I know I wasn’t alone in having concerns for the Swedish masters of melodeath.
It even seemed that the band themselves were cognisant of this, as they made all sorts of statements about the creative changes they were making. But ultimately, all we got was a drab mix of the band’s current status quo with some throwbacks to the Haven/Projector era, managing to offer little either new or classic sounding. Despite a few good songs, this one really was a big disappointmet.
Hacride – Back To Where You’ve Never Been
Always one of the most interesting post-Meshuggah style groups out there (without ever drifting near the “D”-word), losing their singer seems to have prompted a definite shake-up in the Hacride camp, and I’m not sure if the results are as entirely positive as the band might have wanted. It’s pretty easy to see that their latest album errs much more towards nu-metal than they have before, often reducing the band’s signature poly-rhythmic riffage and textured atmosphere to a bland rehashing of generic Mudvayne-isms and caterwauling angst. There’s a good band still in there somewhere still, we’ll just have to wait and see if they can crawl out of the bed they’ve made for themselves here.
Ihsahn – Das Seelebrechen
Now this one… this one was painful. Almost phyiscally so. Vegard Sverre Tveitan is one of my musical heroes. I’ve met him. He was intelligent and engaging. He introduced me to Ulver. He’s been responsible for some of the finest Black Metal ever written, and his solo albums have been (almost without exception) utterly phenomenal expositions of skill and creative nuance. But there’s just something missing here.
I know it’s meant to be more “improvisational” than what he considers his “main” releases. I get that. And when it works, it really works. He takes some fantastic risks here that really pay off. But at other times the “improvisational” nature of the work simply makes it appear undercooked and unpolished. The creative act – in music, in art – is always improvisational at heart. You come up with something from the vagaries of your mind and craft and sculpt it into shape. And that craft is simply lacking here.
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
Painful, but in a different way, the new Mercenary album really has me thinking that they’ll never truly recover from the loss of the Sandager brothers. I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of Metamorphosis and felt it held a lot of promise for the current line-up of the band. But Through Our Darkest Days sees the band slipping into the same generically uplifting blandness that cursed so much of the US metalcore scene in the early to mid 2000s. Indeed, the band are far closer to, say, Still Remains now than to Omnium Gatherum and their ilk. And this sonic softness, the vague, overly-anthemic lyrics, and frankly uninspired riffage that infects even the best songs here, does not bode well for the band.
Revocation – s/t
This will probably inspire a few “WTF!!!” reactions from a fair segment of our readers, and I can just picture their fingers flying across the keyboard right now as they endeavour to tell me just how much of a loser I am. But hear me out…
Can you really say that this record stands toe to toe with albums like Existence Is Futile and Chaos of Forms? The band are, obviously, as stupendously talented as ever, but this record (to me at least) feels oddly safe for them. It lacks the scrappy energy of Existence… and the rampant insanity of Chaos…. And in the wake of the utterly phenomenal Teratogenesis EP, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in expecting the band to absolutely knock this one out of the park. And – “Invidious” notwithstanding – I think if you look at it honestly, you can see that they didn’t. It’s still a good album, but it’s a definite blip on the band’s upwards trajectory.
Soul Embraced – Mythos
My feelings about this one are a little conflicted. On the one hand, SE have never exacty set the world on fire before now, but on the other I’ve always felt that Rocky Gray and his merry band of metal misfits had promise. They were clearly students and lovers of death metal throughout the ages, and at times channelled that love into producing some occasionally impressive – if inconsistent – displays of pure power. But to be honest, Mythos is, for the majority of its running time, pretty uninspired. A few songs pick up the energy and vitality, but mostly it’s a directionless array of plodding riffs and stock vocal patterns that offer nothing of real note to the genre. I feel bad being so harsh, considering how much of a fan I’ve been, but there’s really no other way to describe my feelings.
Watain – The Wild Hunt
Finally we come to perhaps the most divisive album of the year. Now while I find The Wild Hunt to be, ultimately, a rather disappointing record when all is said and done, it might not be for quite the reasons you expect. I love the fact that the band have experimented a bit here – even if it is in a more mainstream, Black Album-esque direction. “They Rode On”, “The Wild Hunt”, and “The Child Must Die” are all very different, very effective ways of expanding the sonic palette they use to spread their blasphemous blackened art. It’s the fact that they haven’t fully committed to this that galls me.
For every track that stretches their sound, it’s matched by one that simply rehashes things they’ve already done (“Holocaust Dawn” rips off the band’s own “Stellarvore” for example). For a band who portray themselves as so rebellious and uncomrpomising, it’s awkward how clearly they’ve structured the album to have a number of nice, “safe” (and very generic) Watain tracks to soothe those fans aggravated by the more progressive/expansive material.
So yes, disappointing, but not because they’ve tried something new – or because they’ve “sold-out” – but because they’ve failed to fully commit, and the album ends up stranded on the fence, neither one thing nor the other.
And there we have it. Seven albums, and seven reaons why each one is – in its own way – something of a disappointment.
I’m sure some of you will disagree. Probably quite strongly. And you’re welcome to.
Remember, I’m not telling you how or what to think. I’m simply offering an unflinchingly honest, alternative viewpoint to those who’ve fawned over these albums for reasons which, to me, seem unconvincing at best. And although we don’t tend to do negative reviews here at NCS, I thought it was valuable to (in my own way) confront these albums head on. I’m not bashing these bands or albums because it makes me feel big, or clever. I don’t have any agenda or vendetta here. Every single artist on all three of these lists is one I’m a fan of. But sometimes I think it’s worth being critical.
So, while you all warm-up your flame cannons and pithy insults, let’s try and keep things at least vaguely civil, shall we? You know how much bad language upsets Islander after all.
You know what? I agree. which is funny because three of the albums you listed are ones I quite like… but none of them made my top, for the same reasons. They could have each been better. Although I’d like to say, I think “Fracked” is an amazing song.
I’ll give you “Fracked” actually. It’s just that the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
I disagree wholeheartedly with Ihsahns latest and think its actually his best work since 2010’s After. Eremita was too much a rehash of ideas from After.
Wholeheartedly agree with Watain. So meh i meh’d through the entire album twice.
Eremita had some fantastic songs, but was incredibly inconsistent. The new one is the same… but in a different way. If that makes any sense. Although that is just my opinion, and not (yet) established scientific fact.
I don’t exactly love Construct, but I still thought it was pretty strong. Sure it’s a bit slower than some of DT’s previous works, but I don’t really hold it against them. They tried something a little different and I think it paid off.
But, hey, opinions is opinions. Just wanted to chime in on the one record I’ve actually heard on this list.
The thing is it’s not very “different” at all. There are some good songs here and there, but mostly it’s almost like a collection of b-sides that didn’t make the previous album, where they’ve half-heartedly mixed the slower and more moody elements of “Haven” in, and just left it at that.
I have no problem with their slower stuff, “…Particle Storm” and “Iridium” are two of my favourite songs by them. It just didn’t add anything to their sound or legacy and felt really uninspired.
Good…I was beginning to think I was the only one who felt this way about Das Seelebrechen. By Ihsahn standards (comparing it to his previous works), I find it mediocre. And although “mediocre” probably sounds very negative, I would follow that up by saying most bands only wish they could make an album as good as a mediocre Ihsahn album.
“most bands only wish they could make an album as good as a mediocre Ihsahn album”
Quoted for truth here.
Also I think it will stand as a necessary digression in order to cleanse his palette and refresh his creativity for the next album in his “main” portfolio (particularly since Eremita was showing definite sign of fatigue).
I totally agree with you on Revocation. You’re not alone in thinking that it just didn’t advance the band’s sound any further, and is seriously overshadowed by the powerful Teratogenesis.
I have to disagree, however, about Hacride. It’s my favorite album of their entire output – I thought the concision and punchiness of the new style was a boon. Too much of their older material just meanders – I love long songs (Opeth was my gateway to extreme metal), but there are too many moments on the previous releases where I just lost interest in songs that didn’t advance themselves melodically.
I think there is (or is going to be) a definite divide between the old and the new side of Hacride fans. I’ve defintiely seen some signs of it already.
Germ – Grief / This may have disappointed due to the fact that the debut caught me completely off-guard and was so unique, but this one didn’t seem to change the formula at all.
Gigan – ???? / No one is mentioning this, so I guess I’m not alone here.
Orphaned Land – All is One / Please jump off the Opeth demetalization train. I can’t take this from any more of my fave bands. I just can’t.
Shining – OneOneOne / I like the improvisational nature of Ihsahn’s new disc, so that might have something to do with this suddenly stream-lined Shining.
Skinny Puppy – Weapon / This may have hurt me the most if they hadn’t already provided me with 30 years of awesome. I suspect Ohgr might me focused on his solo work.
Palms / I can’t remember the name of that PorcOpeth Tree project, but this was that Part 2.
Bravo! The new Orphaned Land was so bad, I completely forgot about it in my comment. I remember how, leading up to it’s release, they kep spouting off about how it’s going to be a “new direction” and that it would be their “greatest work ever” (or something to that effect.) Those were definitely red-flags. And once the album came out, it sounded more like Myrath-styled pop-music than Eastern Metal.
And you listed some other good examples there too, especially Palms (Isis basically swapping Aaron Turner for the shithead from the Deftones) and Shining (who I never cared for to begin with.) Well done.
I missed out on Gigan. Really wanted to get to it as well. Next year, hopefully.
I almost have to agree with Construct. I still love DT but Construct didn’t exactly floor me. Good album still, but it was slightly disappointing. I’d also like to add Deadlock’s The Arsonist. The new harsh vocalist doesn’t stand up well to the old one. I count myself in the minority who loved Bizarro World, but this album just isn’t very good in comparison.
I’d have to say I agree with all of these, especially with Watain. Dark Tranquillity was really no surprise though, and Revocation never really impressed me.
However, I’d add one more to that list: Carcass. I know I’ll probably get a lot of hate for this, but I feel the music on “Surgical Steel” was a way-overhyped rehash of genre tropes, rather than a new work of art. It felt stale right out of the gate.
Carcass? Them’s fightin’ words around these here parts!!!
Ha, ok, not really. I thought it was fantastic but – spoiler alert – it hasn’t made either of my Top 10 lists for this year.
Thank you. Someone finally sees past the nostalgia factor and realizes that Surgical Steel is just a rehashed, phoned-in, unoriginal Heartwork. It’s fine, but it’s totally unnecessary.
I’m a 110% with you on ‘Construct’. Even in their live performance, those new tracks seemed to stand out, in a slightly negative light. Still, love DT. Show’s still worth every penny!
Personally, I could also add HSB’s and Born of Osiris’ new albums to the same bunch as Revocation’s: nothing wrong with the releases, per se, but lacking the ability to fully meet one’s expectation and achieve that “HOLY SHIT”-listening experience.
Interesting… HSB is on my “Great” list, as I really can’t find anything wrong with it.
BoO though could never disappoint me, as I’ve never considered them anything but a band who are entirely style over substance.
I’d like to ad TBDM’s Everblack to this list. Beyond the opening track, it’s really kind of bland. Which sucks considering how much I loved Deflorate and Ritual.
Well you can’t, because Everblack’s a great album, and much better, and darker, than Ritual (which had way more stock TBDM tracks).
I found Ritual to be a lot darker. I just get extremely bored by track 3 or 4 with Everblack. The previous two albums had riffs with mammoth tusks for hooks. There is not a single riff on Everblack that grabs me.
Sounds like a you problem.
I think Pulse from Das Seelebrechen is the best Opeth song that has come out in the last three years.
I wholeheartedly agree with you on both Ihsahn and Revocation. Ihsahn was boring after the first couple of songs, and Invidious was the only decent track on Revocation (Black Fast and Condor did thrash metal so, so much better than Revocation did this year, along with several other bands).
a little surprised to see Revocation on here, but i do agree that Teratogenesis was better.
Unfortunately you are right about Dark tranquillity andy.. I am a huge fanboy and even if they’d release their body excretions and label it ‘the new album’ I’d buy it and do my best to like it. Construct is likeable in the sense that there are some really good songs on the album (None Becoming, For Broken Words, Uniformity) and the overall sound of the album is pleasant (though very similar to We Are The Void), but the album ultimately fails because of two reasons:
1) there are simply too many songs on the album that feel unfinished, B-sidey and uninspired. As I mentioned I really liked a couple of songs (which for me saved this release from being a huge disappointment), but besides these three there are some okay songs and half of the album is plain boring. The most annoying thing is that you can hear there’s potential, it’s just not realized.
2) they’ve promised changes and this to be projector 2.0. They should’ve never made statements like that, because here we were expecting a revolutionary change, whilst the album is nothing more than the continuation of We Are The Voids sound with a bit more clean singing. Maybe if exectations weren’t as high as they were because of the promised changes that didn’t happen, the album would feel less disappointing.
However, I do feel the need to state that above all else I am glad dark tranquillity is still releasing albums, and I go and see them on stage every year if I can since they’re just awesome. So I am certainly not dissing on the band, I was just hoping for more with this album.
I wonder if they ever manage to make an album that meets the quality of Character or The Minds Eye..
I’d like to add Democratic Solution by !T.O.O.H.! to the list. When this album was released, I expected it to sound similar to their legendary album Pod Vladou Bice. Instead, it sounds like a boring industrial metal album, complete with uninspired programmed drums, soulless guitars, and monotonous clean vocals. It’s a sad end to what was once a great band.
i’d like to add Living Sacrifice to the list, just underwhelming IMO. Somewhat agree on you’re inclusion of Revocation’s ST, BUT I would say that you are probably suffering from a jaded outlook regarding a band that is just QUALITY every time!
Merry fuckin X-mass bitches.