(Andy Synn wrote this. Let me repeat, ANDY SYNN WROTE THIS.)
Well, here it is, the one column of mine a year which I know Islander truly hates with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns!
Ok, maybe not that much, but I do know that the boss-man doesn’t like us being negative on this site… and this is probably the most overtly negative thing that we publish all year, so I can understand where he’s coming from!
Still… we all know it’s important for there to be balance to the force, and I think having this *slightly* more negative than usual post at the end of the year definitely serves a purpose, in the grand scheme of things.
Let me reiterate, though, that just because I feel like these albums are “Disappointing”, to a greater or lesser extent, doesn’t necessarily mean I think that they’re “Bad” albums, per se, nor am I trying to tell you what to think or what you’re allowed/supposed to like.
In fact the general theme of this year’s column is just how many of these albums simply ended up being surprisingly bland or boring – as opposed to utterly terrible – particularly when compared not only with the rest of the year’s best output but also with the usual high standards set by the band’s themselves!
I do just want to quickly mention, before we go further, that this column isn’t designed as “click-bait”, nor is it meant just to stoke up controversy and attract (negative) attention to the site. We don’t play that way here.
It’s also no reflection of my sexual orientation or how my parents raised me, so you can leave that shit by the door as well.
No, these are all honest opinions, which I’ve put quite a lot of time and thought into… in fact quite a few of these albums were ones I was really looking forward to, so I’m writing here both as a “critic” (shudder) and as a fan like any other.
So while I have no problem with anyone disagreeing (or agreeing) with me on things, and I look forward to engaging with some of you directly about our mutual or opposing likes/dislikes in the comments section… let’s just try to keep things civil, shall we?
Drudkh – A Furrow Cut Short
Right out of the bat I’m going to hit you with a big one (not like that, keep your filthy thoughts to yourselves) with the legendary Drudkh.
Now, let me be clear about one thing… Drudkh have never put out a bad album. Never. Not even [insert your least favourite album here]. But it’s true that some of their albums are only “pretty good” – particularly when compared with how utterly stupendous they can be.
Unfortunately, A Furrow Cut Short is definitely one of those albums. There’s nothing majorly wrong with it – the parts are all present and correct and in full working order – but over the course of the album’s seven, often quite drawn-out, tracks there’s only really the occasional flash of the group’s traditional magic to be found.
Ultimately it’s just a rather “stock” album, and we all know they can do much, much better!
Ghost Bath – Moon Lover
Interestingly, my reasons for having this album on here have little-to-nothing to do with the furore about the band misrepresenting themselves as Chinese. No, as odd (and a little desperate) as that was, my only real issue with Moon Lover is just how generally bland it is.
Although the album was sold – by the press, the band, and the record label – as being a potential jewel in the crown of the whole “Post Black Metal” scene… it’s just a remarkably dull listen from a band seemingly content to imitate, rather than innovate.
And, in a year with so many more vital, emotional, and truly captivating releases falling under the “Post Black Metal” umbrella, that was just never really going to cut it.
Hate – Crusade Zero
Here’s another one of those “big” names I expect a lot of dissent over. Polish Black/Death behemoths Hate have, I think if we’re all being honest with ourselves here, had a slightly uneven career thus far, marked with some significant bright spots (Morphosis and Solarflesh to name just two), alongside a number of more solid, but unspectacular, entries.
Unfortunately Crusade Zero sits firmly in the latter category for me, afflicted by a malaise of bland songwriting and ill-considered pacing that renders the overall impact of the album ineffectual at best.
Granted, there’s a couple of killer tracks on this album, so it’s definitely not a total misfire, but the excess of blandly “dark” interlude tracks (seriously, two intros back to back? Whose idea was that?) and an over-abundance of songs which simply don’t go anywhere, mean that the whole package just fails to ever really ignite.
Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Although this is easily the biggest name on the list, and the one most likely to get us a bunch of digital hate mail and/or death threats (Maiden fans are nothing if not fanatically dedicated after all), I’d like to state that – for the record – I’m a big fan of what you might call “modern” Maiden (heck, I count A Matter of Life and Death as one of my all-time favourite Maiden albums) as well as the metaphorical institution that is Iron Maiden in general.
But, as a fan of the band, I’m also willing to acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, and I don’t feel the need to try and rabidly defend every slight slip-up or misfire that they make – these guys are legends for a reason, and they don’t need me (or you) to suck up to them.
I do get why people like this album, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I like quite a bit of it, too. There’s some really great stuff here. BUT – and that’s a big but, as you can plainly see – the choice to go bigger, and bolder, with the double-album also means that the band’s flaws are similarly magnified, in particular their seeming refusal to cut down or edit their material in what seems like an occasionally awkward attempt to stay “progressive”, sacrificing focus and clarity for… repetition, mainly.
Now of course it’s not for me (or you) to tell a band how to write their songs – it’s simply up to us to react to them. And if your reaction was more positive than mine, well, that’s just the way it is. But (and I say this as someone who has NO problem with long songs) I would certainly contend that there are times when adding *more* – particularly more repetitions, more reiterations – to a song stops actually *adding* anything, and starts to take away from it instead.
Can you ever get too much Maiden? I suppose that depends on how you feel about the band. If you worship the ground they walk on, and won’t accept that anything they put out is less than a masterpiece (something I’m sure I’ve been guilty of myself with certain bands in the past), then the answer will clearly be “no”. But… if you’re willing to accept that even the gods of Metal aren’t perfect, then maybe you’ll agree with me that The Book of Souls ended up spreading the band a little too thinly for their own good.
Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology
I know some people have loved this album, and that’s totally fine. As I said above, I’m not here to dictate to anyone what they can, or cannot, like. And I’ll definitely admit that there’s something particularly gripping about hearing Arnt “Obsidian” Grønbech singing his own words in his own voice this time around.
I also have no issue with the increased use of clean singing on this album – despite the sheer plethora of blastbeats they use, KoK have never been the most downright “extreme” band after all (though certain t-shirts claim otherwise), and the soaring vocal lines often really suit the band’s more “epic” inclinations.
No, the real problem is that there’s just too far too much filler on this album – a problem which has been an issue for the band in the past. Although it has a brace of really good songs, too many tracks suffer from an unfortunate tendency to become overly repetitive, even tedious, at times.
Far too often you’ll find yourself enjoying a song, only for it to become bogged down in repeating the same unremarkable riff motifs over and over again in order to pad out its overall length, and – despite the fact that catchy, intricate riff work has become the band’s calling card over the years – a surprising number of tracks whip by with only the barest hint of a hook to call their own.
There’s about a solid EP’s worth of material on this album – songs which really do showcase what the three-piece can do when they’re in the zone. But unfortunately, the rest of the material just doesn’t seem up to the group’s usual high standards.
Khors – Night Falls Onto The Front Of Ours
Ignoring the elephant in the room (something was definitely lost in translation with that album title), what we have here is simply a rather sub-standard album by the Ukranian pagans.
It’s not terrible. Not by any means. It’s just… extremely underwhelming. And I think we all know the band are capable of much, much better.
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution
Perhaps this album’s biggest issue was that it simply promised so much… but ended up delivering what felt like a very lifeless experience to me. Maybe it was a case of simply trying to be too cerebral about the whole thing… too much head, not enough heart… but the promise of Infinite Dissolution largely ended up being a prime example of style over substance to my ears.
I’m not complaining that the album is, to coin a phrase, “more accessible” than its predecessor – it definitely is, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s more that the resultant package comes across as a rather lightweight affair, when all is said and done. Of course, one man’s “ethereal” is another man’s “insubstantial”, and I’ve seen numerous reviews and ratings that clearly disagree with what I’ve written here… but to me there’s nothing really vital here that might serve to really grab my attention and make Infinite Dissolution a “must-listen” album.
Negură Bunget – Tău
This one was definitely painful for me on a very personal level, as my feelings for Negură Bunget run deep and hard (keep it clean, dammit!). But, despite the band having produced some of the most mesmerising and majestic Folk/Black Metal albums of all time over the years… this one’s a real dud.
There’s just no spark to it, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed either. In fact, this is probably the one album on the list that I’d imagine a LOT of people will agree with me on, as I’ve seen a number of other respectable sites and bloggers air opinions and viewpoints very similar to my own, as sad as that makes me.
Orkan – Livlaus
Perhaps the worst thing that I can say about this album, by a band who named themselves after the Norwegian word for “hurricane” and whose ranks include live-members of the almighty Taake… is just that it’s a surprisingly unexciting listen.
Given its pedigree, and given how much I enjoy a healthy dose of Norwegian Blackened Thrash, this one had some real potential… which unfortunately went unfulfilled!
Soilwork – The Ride Majestic
Of all the albums on this list, this one perhaps hits me the hardest, particularly since I was the one who reviewed the album in the first place (although, as you’ll recall, I expressed some reservations even back then).
And yes, it is a “good” album… mostly. But it very, very rarely hits the heights we know the band are capable of, and a good proportion of these tracks peak at the level of “solid, but unremarkable”.
Which is disappointing.
For every kick-ass ear-worm of a riff, there’s another that’s rather limp and flaccid by the band’s usual standards. For every bit of “killer” song-writing, there’s a bland bit of “filler” following close behind… even some of the massive vocal melodies (usually the band’s most unassailable point) come off a little tired and old-hat, as if they’re just lesser reflections of things the band have done before.
I still contend there’s a fair a bit to love about this album. But there’s also a lot of material that rarely rises above being generally serviceable but unspectacular – the sort of stuff that’s pleasant enough when you’re actually listening to it, but rarely leaves a deeper impression once it’s done.
So yes, this one ended up in the “Disappointing” column this year. Even I’m a little surprised about that to be honest. But it definitely feels a bit like the band, whether they’re conscious of it or not, were coasting a bit on this album.
Vreid – Solverv
Though this is the final entry (I assume you’ve all worked out by now that they’ve been listed alphabetically, rather than in rank order, right?) it’s still one that hits me hard, considering how big a supporter I’ve been of Norway’s answer to Metallica (when they were good) over the years.
But there’s just something about Solverv that doesn’t sit right with me, and I know I’m not alone.
It seems as though, in an attempt to hybridise the earlier sound of the band with their more recent one, while throwing in a dash of Windir along the way, something’s gone missing… that Vreid have ended up producing an album accentuating the lesser aspects of their sound, rather than their best.
Big chunks of the album find the quartet meandering in search of a solid hook or sense of identity… the pieces are all there, but they rarely lock together into anything more than the mere sum of their parts. I suppose, ultimately, that there’s just nothing at all that makes this album feel “special”.
What’s even more puzzling is quite how many “awe-inspiring”, “a masterpiece” –type reviews I’ve seen being bandied about – to the extent where several times now I’ve gone back to the album to see how I could have so drastically misread it… except, for the life of me, I can’t see how anyone could rate this as anything more than an entirely “average” entry, in a year filled with so many more electrifying and more compelling albums.
So there we have it. Some of you probably hate me now. Some of you probably already hated me. That’s cool. It takes all sorts to make the world go round (though it only take Superman to make the world spin backwards).
As I said, I expect some healthy disagreements, and some interesting arguments, to be made about why I was right/wrong/clearly smoking crack when I wrote all this, and I look forward to some enjoyable discussions.
Let’s just keep the trolling and flame-wars to a minimum, shall we? I’m pretty sure Islander isn’t fully paid up with the site’s insurance!