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.


BelphegorConjuring the Dead

The first of several painful inclusions on this year’s list, I think I summed up the main issue with Conjuring the Dead in my review of it earlier this year, stating that:

“Sometimes the album sounds far too much like Belphegor going through the motions of their own sound, while at others it sounds like the band trying to sound like someone else.”

An unfortunate sentiment that I still think rings true. There’s some good songs on it, no doubt, but the album as a whole falls surprisingly flat. These guys can pull off some absolutely bestial-sounding metallic magic(k) when they want to. For some reason though, this wasn’t one of those times.




CarcassSurgical Remission/Surplus Steel

When we heard Carcass were issuing an EP of unreleased offcuts from the Surgical Steel sessions the mood here at NCS Towers was pretty darn ecstatic. Unfortunately one listen to the EP itself put paid to that very quickly.

The songs on Surplus Steel are a perfect testament to why some material is best left on the cutting-room floor. Ranging from uninspired to insipid, these songs share little in the way of their parent album’s fire and brimstone fury, and epitomize the stagnant and directionless post-Swansong sound we’d all been afraid of.

One to avoid, unfortunately.




Darkest HourDarkest Hour

Now this one really was a painful inclusion on this year’s list, not just because of how much this band mean to me, but also because the inevitable success of the album’s placid, mass-appeal sound pretty much guarantees that this is the direction they’ll be following in the future.

And don’t try and bamboozle me with that oh-so-predictable “you just don’t want bands to change!” rhetoric. If you know anything about me from reading the site then you’ll know that’s most definitely not true. I even agree that it was probably about time for Darkest Hour to give their sound a much-needed tune-up and a fresh lick of paint.

However, their self-titled album comes across as a cynical and calculated attempt to grab some mainstream success, sanitizing their sound and filing down all the sharp edges, with all the predictably generic lyrics and easily-digestible chorus melodies that entails.

I don’t mind bands changing. I never have. And I certainly don’t begrudge bands being successful. But please, don’t try and tell me this is an innovative new direction for the band. It’s nothing new, although it undeniably sells well.




Devin TownsendZ2: Sky Blue / Dark Matters

I can already imagine several people out there rubbing their hands with glee at seeing the name Devin Townsend appear on this list. For some reason his success and general popularity stimulates a certain type of people to bide their time, just waiting for a chance to leap out and say “I told you so! He’s SO over-rated/terrible.”

Well, here’s the thing. I’m a big fan of Devin’s work. I enjoy the variety of modes and moods and styles he works in. I don’t love everything to the same level, but I enjoy his output as an unashamed expression of his own particular art and personality. But that also means I’m confident enough to say when something isn’t up to snuff.

In this case my complaints about the album are two-fold.

Firstly, the ridiculous Ziltoidian narrative of Dark Matters very much overshadows the actual music, with some solid songs getting lost in all the hustle and bustle as the story moves along. The balance just isn’t there this time around.

Secondly – and more damningly – Sky Blue just comes across as a less inspired, vacuously poppy, and altogether less well-realised version of stuff he’s done before. For every strong hook or glorious moment of unabashed melody there’s another generic rehash of previous material, tweaked ever so slightly (and to its detriment) with a heavy-handed helping of sickly-sweet pop or generic euro-dance that takes away from any actual emotional impact the music might have had.

There’s some good moments, some truly heartfelt moments, I’m not denying that. But they’re almost drowned out beneath the album’s saccharine sheen.




In FlamesSiren Charms

I’ll put my hand up right now and say that I am still a big fan of In Flames. Particularly live (I have seen them absolutely own more than a few massive festival stages in my time, and would happily see them do so again). I’m also still a big fan of Sounds of a Playground Fading, which I thought had some damn good songs on it, as well as a welcome helping of the band’s ever-recognisable lead guitar melodies.

But this one is by far one of their worst albums. It’s well played and well-intentioned, I’m sure of that, but it’s also confused and muddled and directionless. The band clearly don’t know quite what they want to be anymore and, unlike, say, Katatonia (who handled their own transition to a new style with aplomb), have tried to have it all ways, resulting in an album that mish-mashes so many different stylistic elements together that it’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t.

There’s a few songs here and there that aren’t too bad, but ask yourself this – how many of these songs would you actually want to see live, at the expense of their other, much better, material?




InsomniumShadows of the Dying Sun

Cool your jets sunshine, and step away from the keyboard for a second. Take a breath, and read what I have to say before jumping to the comments section to call me out for being an “idiot” or a “poser” (or something else even less pleasant).

This is not a bad album by any means. Heck, for my money Insomnium are basically incapable of putting out a bad album. But it does feel a bit like they’re spinning their wheels with this one, and too many of the tracks fall easily into the “generic Insomnium song” category for my liking.

Granted, “While We Sleep”, “Lose To Night”, and the title track are all fantastic numbers in their own right but, as with In Flames above, few of the other tracks make the sort of impression where I’d want to hear them live over material from the band’s previous albums. And yes, that includes “Ephemeral”, which is catchy as hell, but apart from that not really anything special.

It’s definitely got a lot going for it this album, but it also plays it very, very safe.




SargeistFeeding the Crawling Shadows

Another painful inclusion. I wanted to like this more than I do, because Sargeist really are masters at tapping into that undercurrent of filth and depravity that lies just beneath the thin veneer of civilization that we all cling to. It’s just that this album simply does not quite measure up to its predecessor, both in sound or in song-writing. Let The Devil In was an absolute masterclass in bile and blasphemy that positively seethed with venom and power. And somehow Feeding the Crawling Shadows lacks the same sense of Satanic strength and vitality.

Again, it’s not a bad album by any means, and it certainly has the requisite blackened bark… it’s just that its bite is disappointingly duller this time around.





This may well be another one that’s guaranteed to get me some hate-mail (did I tell you I received my first piece of hate-mail this year? I really have made it as a “journalist” now), but please try and restrain yourself until you’ve at least skim-read my reasons, ok?

From my point of view, this album just seems quite forced really. While the symphonic pomposity and orchestral grandeur are thoroughly thrilling, they were also clearly given the lion’s share of the band’s attention this time around, to the detriment of the album as a whole. Basically, it’s a thoroughly unbalanced affair. The Death Metal parts sound like an afterthought, there to back up the symphonics as and when necessary, and completely incapable of anchoring a song on their own merit. Even the vocals sound blandly uninterested.

It’s a casualty of style over substance in my eyes, and the musical equivalent of a generic Michael Bay blockbuster – all sound and fury, without any real depth.




SoilworkBeyond the Infinite

If you re-read what I’ve put about Surplus Steel above, and substitute the name Soilwork for Carcass, you’ll pretty much be right on the money. Another perfect example of why not every song can be a winner, these tracks utterly fail to live up to the incredibly high standards set by The Living Infinite, and I am very glad they didn’t make the final cut!




WhitechapelOur Endless War

This one was oddly painful to include as well, since I’ve been a big supporter of the band for a long time now (though I still think 3 guitars is pushing it).

You may recall that I absolutely loved their self-titled album in particular, and felt it was the start of the band establishing a singular sound for themselves, one which stood strong against the band’s detractors and separated them from their peers in style.

Unfortunately Our Endless War sees the band taking one step forward and two steps back, with far too many of these tracks blending back in with the pack, their slightly Meshuggah-ised guitars and telegraphed breakdowns infecting each one with a generic, non-specific brand of over-processed heaviness that flails wildly in a desperate search for identity or direction.

It’s not all bad of course. The band clearly mean everything they do and say and clearly put their hearts into every song, with a number of them hitting home with real passion and vigour – the title track is a thrashy monster of a song, “Worship the Digital Age” and “Blacked Out” are both crushing and compellingly catchy, and the more melodic “Diggs Road” showcases a new side to the band that I for one find very welcome – but that’s not enough to save the album from being an unfortunate “also ran” in a year of so many stellar releases.

Oh, and the less said about the dumbed-down bounce of “The Saw Is The Law” the better, in my opinion.



So there we have it. I apologise to anyone I’ve offended, and I apologise to all the bands involved. It really wasn’t anything personal.

I just hope you can all forgive me…


  1. Pretty spot on. I totally love Devin and Casualties of Cool was awesome but when you push double album out the same year, it feels forced. And it totally sounds forced. None of the songs really stand out, they are just made after the same blueprint.
    Insomnium just releases the same album over and over again (I’m a Finn, I do respect them). In Flames continues their doomed journey. Septicflesh does focus too much on orchestra and with Soilwork and Carcass; The unreleased material should stay unreleased.
    This is the kind of journalism that I enjoy: Critical.

    • We try to be… critically positive? If that’s a thing… here at NCS.

      This is just the one part of the year I get to have a little whine and let my inner-curmudgeon out.

  2. Agreed on Z2, sadly. I’m a huuuuuuge gushing fanboy of pretty much everything Devy does, but this falls short and fails to grab me like the vast majority of the rest of his discography does. The “Raw” version of Dark Matters (just music, no dialogue) is much better, but still… eh. I love ZTO, but this one is just dumb. Sky Blue has a few moments of beauty & brilliance, but… eh.


    • Yeah. “Bummer” definitely sums it up. It kind of sucks to have to admit that he dropped the ball on this one (though I’m sure lots of people will disagree… vehemently and aggressively).

  3. I agree that Insomniums latest was a disappointment. I thought I was the only one (sniff). I just couldn’t get into it. I’d zone out and realize that I missed some tracks and that’s not good especially coming from these guys.

    Z2 especially on the non Ziltoid side was nice but nothing I haven’t already heard before over the past releases like Epicloud or Ghost. Ziltoid the Omniscient really should have just been left alone. It was funnier when the audience was younger and could appreciate the zany more. This was just forced humor.

    I can see how people would be disappointed in Titan. Imo the bar was set pretty high with the Great Mass. But I’m a fan boy and still think anything Septicflesh does at this point is heads above everyone else. I just dig the bombastic 🙂

    • Hey, I love a good blast of bombast as much as the next fellow… it’s just that, for me, “Communion” was their high point, and this… this is nowhere near that high point!

  4. ^^^ Ok, you guys now have to protect me against the oncoming storm of insults and questions about my parentage, deal?

    • With the amount of lists across the websphere maybe people will either be too distracted or too fatigued to realize you don’t like what they like 😉

  5. Ugh, that Darkest Hour. Long-time fan, but I only got through it once. I do hate to levy the “selling out” charge against a band because we’ll never know what was in their heart of hearts, but there sure was some Evanescence-level drek in there.

  6. Nooo! Not Sargeist! Actually I agree to a point. I often see comparisons to Let the Devil in, but IMHO Disciples of the Heinous Path it the better album, and still one of my absolute favorites. Slightly filthier than Let the Devil In, with better riffs IMHO. So personally I thought Let the Devil In was a disappointment compared to its predecessor, and Feeding the Crawling Shadows still does not live up to that (despite the excellent IMHO EP Lair of Necromancy)…

    • I pretty much hold “Disciples…” and “Let The Devil In” at the same level, which I suppose partially exacerbates the overall differences in quality between those two, and “Feeding…”

  7. I couldn’t agree more with Insomnium, and spot on with those tracks you’ve mentioned, the only good ones in there and the same goes for SepticFlesh (except for songs Dogma and Prometheus).

    • Also Insomnium’s been on this downward trend since every release after Above the Weeping World.

      • I actually think that “One for Sorrow” is one of their best (ATWW is, of course, their absolute pinnacle), so I don’t think of this really as a downward trend at all. Just a bit of a blip in a career that’s generally FULL of high points.

  8. Spot on with Z2 and Our Endless War.

  9. In Flames is kinda obvious I guess, and apart from Titan and Shadows… I more or less had the same opinion about the albums you’ve listed.

    It’s just that the reason behind putting septicflesh and insomnium here (besides it being your opinion which is actually already good enough) seems a bit arbitrary; in your ‘good’ and ‘great’ list there are also a ton of albums that you say also take the safe route more or less, but with these two bands that somehow puts them on the ‘disappointing’ list. What makes it different for you I wonder?

    But asides all that I’m enjoying the hell out of your lists so far Andy so don’t take this comment the wrong way 🙂

    • No problem at all, and a request for clarity is always fine.

      In the case of Septic Flesh I really do feel like they only really cared about the orchestration on this album. Strip that away and there’s very little else of worth there. The songs really don’t stand up on their own without all the bells and whistles (and violins, and cellos, and…)

      Whereas with Insomnium, again, there’s just so few stand-out songs. Even with some of the albums you may have found a bit “safe” on the other two lists, I think there’s still a strong case to be made for each one fighting for its place in the band’s catalogue and for songs to make their way into the live set.

      And that’s not the case here. It seems like a lesser version of previous albums (barring a few stand-out tracks).

      Ultimately I think the rule-of-thumb I mentioned with both In Flames and Insomnium is a good (though not infallible) way of looking at things – asking yourself whether or not you’d want to hear any of the songs of this or that album live, at the expense of other material. And I don’t think “Shadows of the Sun” overall makes a good case for itself.

      That help?

      • That helps 🙂 Thank you for clarifying. I actually agree that both albums were a step down in comparison to their predecessors, albeit I guess I am just too big a fanboy that be actually disappointed..

        That said, I really do think the new In Flames was really, really bad. And this is coming from someone who pretty much liked all their previous albums and has seen them live more times than I can count (and no, I can’t count further can five)

  10. I agree with everything here except for Insomnium, though that’s probably due to the “holy-shit-this-is-epic-and-awesome” blinders that I put on whenever I listen to them. However, I thought the new one had some differences from previous efforts – it seemed a bit more uptempo, bright, and hopeful, in a way.

    That Darkest Hour one was painful. I thought The Human Romance was perhaps their best whole album they’d put out, but this one reeks of a band wanting to move up to a bigger stage on Warped Tour.

  11. I like the Sargeist album but I’m not that familiar with their earlier stuff, so I can’t disagree about it not being as good. Most of the other things I skipped for various reasons, but I agree about Z2 and Septicflesh. Z2 was actually a little tough to get all the way through. Being a double album ended up hurting it, I think.

    • The disappointment in the Sargeist album really is about how it compares to their other work. Its not a bad album, but their other material is extremely strong. It just dosnt hold up in comparison to the last few albums

  12. i love the latest Whitechapel : )

  13. Agree 100% with you on Septicflesh. Z2 was definitely a disappointment as well. To be honest I haven’t even listened to the new In Flames due to the negative reception plus they haven’t released anything great for a long while so I wouldn’t expect much from that album anyway.

    • See, I actually love both Come Clarity and Sounds of a Playground Fading… but I really, really struggled to find anything redeeming about the new one.

      Some of the lead parts are quite nice, I guess?

  14. I really appreciate the honesty and freedom of thought behind this article. I haven’t listened to all the records listed, but about some of them I share your feelings. Good work!

    • Thank you. We try not to go negative at all here at NCS, but I always feel that, with all these lists at the end of the year, this at least offers a considered counterpoint (even if it’s just my own!).

  15. I was disappointed by Epicloud initially, thinking that it was nowhere near the heights of Addicted!, but it grew on me over time. Same with Ziltoid in fact.

    Z2 should have been a focused single disc of awesome. I love that he’s prolific and all, but he seems to lack the awareness of when to leave songs out. Carcass for example were sensible enough to leave those EP tracks off Surgical Steel, because any of those tracks would have had a detrimental effect on the whole.

    Meanwhile, it looks like work is sending me off to Japan and I’ll be missing the Ziltoid gig. I don’t actually mind that much given Z2, but it would have been awesome to see all of the first Ziltoid album live. Meh.

    • I am also missing out on the Ziltoid gig, but can’t complain too much, as I was at The Retinal Circus and Casualties of Cool shows (which I much prefer anyway)

  16. I agree with your list, and I would add Machine Head. Big step down from the last album.

    • I would have said that for Unto the Locust, but I think the new one is much better than that one, if it isn’t as good as The Blackening. Bloodstone and Diamonds is way too long, to be sure, but if you break up the listening each of the individual songs are really good.

      • I felt the same about it being way too long, they should have cut out some of the chaff and just kept it more focused. I think it’s taken a slightly different direction to The Blackening and Unto the Locust, so is bound to lose a few fans.

  17. I enjoyed this article.

    I never got around to most of these releases (Un)fortunately. I am glad I am not alone on the Sargeist opinion though. I thought perhaps it was because Plebian Grandstand, Throne Of Katarsis, and Old Wainds all came out with top notch albums around the same time.

    Also, in this assholes opinion, Belphegor wasn’t a disappointment. Admittedly, I wanted more shredding, but that’s because the two things I think of upon hearing the name Belphegor anymore is Shredding for Satan, and Der Rutenmarsch which both always make me laugh and cheer me up when I need a pick-me-up.

    • I’m glad, as I’m always wary of doing a negatively themed article. But as long as some good came of it (and, thankfully, you don’t seem to be the only one who enjoyed it) then it’s been worthwhile.

  18. Huh. Given his past writing, I didn’t think that Andy Sinn actually had any standards. What’s even more surprising is that I mostly agree with this list. Although some of these bands were obviously going to put out awful releases anyway, lol. Like Whitechapel. Can’t really be disappointed by the likes of them, can we?

  19. At The Gates

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