(One of my favorite albums of 2013 came without fanfare from an unusual band in Siberian Russia named Station Dyshthymia (reviewed here). So I asked one of the band’s members, who happens to be a good writer and a good source of under-the-radar metal recommendations, if he would give us his year-end list. And he did!)
Hello, NCS readers, I’m B, vox and bass of the Siberian funeral doom band Station Dysthymia. One thing that pisses me off about many of those year-end lists I’ve been reading on them interblags is that they’re very… generic. Too many are trying to approach the albums from an unbiased perspective.
So in the true spirit of my ongoing love-hate relationship with objective reality, I’m doing a list of albums released in 2013 that affected me personally; albums on which I can comment on an emotional level. Assuming this, I’m also not ranking albums, but arranging them to fit a narrative. So, not so much a list as a rant with 16 bullet points – a nice, round number. Anyway, here goes!
“Man, God, Giant” by Katechon
Whoever did the cover art for this album is a goddamn genius! I clicked through to Bandcamp just because of it. And I’m so glad the art was not wasted on a mediocre release, as the music turned out to be a great example of how a black/death hybrid should sound: dirty, furious, intense, trading blast-beats for d-beats back and forth all over the place. The album’s very tightly packed, there’s absolutely no room to catch your breath, which in my opinion is a sign of excellence in the faster sub-genres of extreme metal.
“At The Caves of Eternal” by Zombiefication
It so happened I had a lengthy stay in Mexico this year (related to my day job), so I had the chance to meet Jacobo of Majestic Downfall in person and attend a rehearsal of his other band, Zombiefication. Beer was drunk, heads were banged, and jokes about naming bands “Disgorge” were cracked – with a member of the Mexican Disgorge in the room, as I found out to my embarrassment!
I got my first taste of the album by hearing some choice cuts off it live, and I was impressed by how la raza can upstage the Swedish in their own game – this has to be the best Swedish-style death metal I heard in a while, and I’m not talking about the Gothenburg wave, but stuff like Bloodbath and Runemagick. Balance is an important concept for me, as you’ll soon realize from reading this list, and these guys strike a good one between melodicism and sheer brutality.
“The Headless Ritual” by Autopsy
So a great band from the past suddenly decides to do a reunion and record an album or two. How do you appraise them? Do you compare it to their classic releases, or do you judge the album as a separate entity? As for me, I always insist on listening to the album in context of the band’s whole history, so, e.g., I think that 2013’s Black Sabbath sucks.
This opinion has brought me into heated discussions with my peers, where they typically ask me, “So, what bands do you know, that managed to top their classic albums after a comeback?” And lately I’ve been answering this question with “fucking Autopsy, motherfucker” (and Gorguts, but more on that later). I love their old stuff, but my favorite is this year’s album. I mean, it’s still Autopsy, it’s still got that vintage early death metal vibe, but it’s not self-parody! There’s new ideas in it, it’s just as interesting to listen to, and it’s even got a better sound now! Not a modern one, mind you, just one that allows the musicianship to shine even more than before.
“Paramnesia” by Altars
Speaking of disappointing albums by seminal bands, there’s two bands whose mention still makes me shudder: Cryptopsy and Morbid Angel. So far, I’m trying to deal with that “kill-a-cop-cop-kill-a-cop-kill-a-kill-a-kill-a-cop” incident by pretending the band is now called Altars and the new album is Paramnesia. Beautifully sick death metal, couldn’t have asked for more. Now, if I could only figure out with which band to mentally replace Cryptopsy…
“Colored Sands” by Gorguts
… Oh, this might work, actually. Or so I thought, anyway. Not saying Cryptopsy was a better band, Gorguts is just a very different flavor of technical death metal, but certainly up there in the pantheon. This is a band comeback I can get behind, since I always enjoyed the weird melodies and harmonics featured in their classical body of work. Weird, but very concise and effective. I’ll be on the lookout for more new stuff of theirs in the years to come.
“Lychgate” by Lychgate
As soon as I heard that Greg Chandler was on this one, I just had to have it, and boy did I get the goods. It took me some time to get used to Chandler’s vocals not in context of Esoteric’s music, but it did just take a couple of songs, since one thing that links Lychgate to Esoteric is the sonic maelstrom they both create.
The music is rhythmically and melodically rich, it won’t ever make you bored. Several listens are needed to just figure out all of the stuff going on in the songs. And the important part – it all makes total sense when you listen to it! A perfect example of complexity not interfering with conciseness.
“Geryon” by Geryon
Restrictions breed creativity, and Geryon’s full-length debut illustrates this principle nicely. Drums, bass, and vox are all there is, yet never did I feel like something was missing. This brings me to an important point: the instrument choices are not a gimmick by any stretch, their arsenal is really all they need to meet their goals.
As for the overall feel, it’s a bassy carnage tactically punctuated by pinches somewhere on the higher strings and frets, delivering an overwhelmingly torturous soundscape; a challenging but very rewarding listen.
“The Last Way” by Ennui
Note: Ennui haven’t released a digital version of the album, so I’m linking to a song off it that was featured in a recent Doom Metal Front compilation.
I am proud to announce, that I am objectively Ennui’s greatest fan. My certainty is backed up by the fact that I own copies #1 of both their albums, which I managed to snatch even before the musicians themselves. It is clear from their last effort that they keep following the doctrine of psychedelic doom lords Esoteric, definitely not the worst influence to wear proudly on your sleeve.
I cannot believe the guitar work on this album – it was basically done in a home studio, but it sounds crisp and clear. On a compositional level, the insane leads kick in right when they are supposed to, delivering a truly cathartic listening experience. Also, lyrics in Georgian – glad they kept this nice touch from their first album!
“Churchburn EP” by Churchburn
Many modern sludge bands tend to overdo the whole “stoned beardfucks jamming” aesthetic, to the point where it’s hard to tell them apart. Churchburn, on the other hand, is pure fucking evil, just as YHWH intended. The riffs are heavy as osmium balls, the vocals sound like a whole choir of pissed-off demons, and yet there’s nice contrast created by the guitar leads, without losing any of the intensity.
My recommendation is to queue up the EP several times in a row in your playlist, to compensate for shortness.
“Stargazer EP” by Astronoid
I tried getting into Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I get what they are doing, I can appreciate and respect it, but unfortunately I just don’t like it. The music seemed very artificial to me, an intellectual “game”, falling short on delivering the subject matter. So, here’s an example of “soft” black metal done right – Astronoid!
There’s only clean vocals here, the sound is polished, yet the music still has balls. There’s an interesting take on black metal’s melodic aspects, which meshes well with the space-inspired concept. The songs have some unbelievably catchy hooks you’ll find yourself humming a couple of days later. As for the guy behind the whole thing not being a metalhead, I really couldn’t care less. He’s got passion, he’s got understanding of what black metal is musically, and he did an outstanding job of recording it.
“Demo MMMXII” by Crypt Sermon
To complete the “short and sweet” part of this list, I want to mention Crypt Sermon. First of all, the vocals are a perfect fit. It strikes the perfect balance of clean and gritty I “searched so long for” (to quote the lyrics) in trad doom: not as clean as Messiah, not as gritty as Wino. Plus, I dig the biblical lyrics spin. As for the music – they do so much with so little. They manage to be memorable and recognizable without actually straying too far from, well, tradition. No small feat for the genre in this day and age!
“Blood Moon Rise” by Jex Thoth
I’m a huge sucker for this whole wave of so-called “vest metal”, so I was very much looking forward to this album. Many were disappointed by the band taking it down a notch and focusing on slower-paced… ballads, if you will. But I’m a-ok with that, and find this to be a natural development of their music. Stuff like “Keep Your Weeds” and “Ehjä” send shivers down my spine just as effectively as “Son of Yule” and “Separated at Birth” from their earlier albums.
As a side note, this is one more record that convinces me using an electric organ will make any song better, no exceptions.
“The Last Spire” by Cathedral
Cathedral’s no more. They ceased to exist. They kicked the bucket. They went to the Great Record Store in the Sky. They are an ex-band. And I don’t know the whole story of why they’re calling it quits, but damn, does Lee Dorrian sound pissed about it, if you judge solely by his vocals on this record! Looks like Cathedral decided to dial down the prog rock sensibilities of The Guessing Game in favor of ye olde school proto-doom groove. While I would’ve loved to hear some more experimental stuff, it is hard to argue that going back to the roots is a suitable approach for writing a swansong album.
“Poderoso se alza en my” by Pylar
I want to thank señor Vidania for sharing this album with me, I would have missed it otherwise. It hits two subjects I am very much interested in.
First of all, there’s folks from Orthodox on the roster, huge fan myself. Those guys should get a lifetime award for innovation in doom metal or something of the sort, as they are always pushing the envelope on what doom metal can do. Their almost jazz-like percussion inspired us as a band to play fast and loose with drum patterns, which contributed to both setting our latest album apart from standard funeral doom, as well as to our difficulties in finding a live drummer.
Second, as a throat-singing neophyte, I fucking love ethnic chants, and there’s a whole bunch of them to be found on this record. I am the kind of person who listens to Yat-Kha and Phurpa, and also the kind of person who enjoyed Orthodox’s Amanecer en puerta oscura, and I perceive Poderoso se alza en my as a deeper dive into the meditative aspects of the former album.
“Gjerhal ket Bardo” by Ego Depths
And to think this one almost didn’t make it to the list! I’m very well acquainted with the album, as during the last several months I’ve listened to several versions of it I got from the band’s mastermind Stigmatheist as part of our ongoing “peer review” project. It was a surprise self-release, caught me with my pants down.
Nevertheless, this album is anything but undercooked – it’s one of the most sinister funeral doom releases I’ve ever heard, comparable only to Wormphlegm or Wreck of the Hesperus. Besides the utterly unhuman sound and songwriting, a very interesting touch is the use of throat singing and a fucking jaw harp, all in context. There’s just something really grim and menacing in the sound of throat singing within the sonic soundscapes funeral doom creates. Here’s me hoping this’ll be a thing now!
“Overhead, Without Any Fuss, The Stars Were Going Out” by Station Dysthymia
I was at first very hesitant of including it, as the album is very 2012 for me, and also because of that whole shameless self-promotion thing. Plus, I must’ve listened to it about sixty-six times already in different states of readiness. I heard that beer brewers have to taste half-done beer all the time, which puts them off that particular beverage, and I can relate to that. But this is definitely this year’s album I am the most emotionally invested in, so I am putting it at the end of the list.
It is a beautifully ugly beast of a record, a fucked up take on funeral doom. I’ve heard of listeners being overwhelmed by the sheer length of the first track, as well as a couple of the rhythmic and stylistic curveballs we throw at them later on to fuck with their sanity, all to the point of some having to stop the playback for a while. To this I say – mission fucking accomplished. The tale this album relays is a grim one, and the sound of it is not supposed to be pretty.
So this concludes my list. Hope I helped someone find a new sonic gem to obsess about and/or reminisce over among this year’s winners. Don’t get lost in the constant stream of new sounds, and find some time to really live music!