Dec 162015
 

Disappoinment valley

 

(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!

 

death valley

 

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

DrudkhA 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-Moonlover

Ghost BathMoon 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

HateCrusade 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

Iron MaidenThe 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

Keep of KalessinEpistemology

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

KhorsNight 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

LocrianInfinite 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.

 

 

Negura Bunget-Tau

Negură BungetTău

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

OrkanLivlaus

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

SoilworkThe 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

VreidSolverv

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!

 

  72 Responses to “A YEAR IN REVIEW(S): THE DISAPPOINTING ALBUMS”

  1. Dear Andy,
    in Polish, orkan also means “a very strong wind” (33 m/s).

  2. Really well though out list. “Solverv” was a heartbreaker for me, too–especially loving “V” and “Welcome Farewell” as I do. Full agreement on Ghost Bath (there’s just no there there), and Negura and Locrian, both, as you said, just don’t deliver on their promise. Now I have to listen to that Drudkh, but I’m guessing I’ll agree there, too. And (sigh) the Maiden. They needed a ballsy producer to tell them “no”. There’s one solid, exemplary album’s worth of material stretched, torqued and fluffed to fill two. 6-7 minutes is their wheelhouse. And greetings to another fan of “A Matter Of Life And Death.” I jam that one nearly as much as “Powerslave.”

  3. Agreed on most.
    Negura I thought was interesting for the first half, then weird for the rest. I think they have changed most of the lineup so it explains the very different sound this time around. I can understand a fan’s disappointment.
    Naming Maiden here is akin to career suicide but I agree as a die hard maiden fan. It just feels lazy somehow and they just made it longer so we wouldn’t be able to say so. We always have a Dickinson solo album next year maybe to fall back on.

    • Ha, well, where Maiden was concerned I didn’t feel right letting fear of reprisals hold me back…

      Though I may come to regret that!

  4. I agree mostly. Hate and KoK were very dissappointing releases that i was heavily looking forward to.

  5. Dear Andy, I’d love to love you but there is a knife between us. You put it there.

  6. I totally enjoyed these lists. I guess I could easily say that NCS is the only decent metal website where actually there’s underground releases as well as the more mainstream ones. I haven’t seen the new Grey Heaven Fall album, Black Wisdom here, which I would love to recommend since it ended up being my album of the year! I have searched the website and saw you mentioning this Russian band a few years back. I haven’t listened to the old stuff but the new album is simply killer. I would suggest it to anyone who like Deathspell Omega – I get a bit of that viber from their album. Cheers from Croatia!

    • Wow, thank you man. I really appreciate that.

      And Grey Heaven Fall is a name I’ve seen around a few places, so I’ll definitely check it out.

  7. I had high hopes for “Moon Lover” after listening to “Golden Number” which is one of the best songs in 2015.
    But the rest of the album is underwhelming and definitly my biggest disappointment in 2015.

    So are they chinese or not?
    I’m confused…

  8. I can’t think of any albums that I felt were disappointing. Maybe Harvester of Shadows? Those plastic drums, go nowhere guitar solos, and goofy lyrics. Don’t get me started on the vomit vocals.

    • Wow… That is definitely NOT a ringing endorsement.

      • I guess i shouldn’t be so harsh, the guy is from Kansas, after all. Seriously, do they even have electricity there?

        • Electricity? That’s the least of my questions. Is Kansas even real? Or is it a made-up word from The Wizard of Oz, like everything else made-up in that book/movie?

          • Kansas is kind of like an alien portal or black hole. You can enter Kansas but you can’t exit. And once you’re here you lose all sense of time and place. Kansans spend their entire lives with their faces pressed against the glass watching the rest of the world go by. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of states.
            Don’t try to rescue us. Just send cheese. We’re running low.

  9. As Ive said before, I think Cruciamentum’s first full length turned out to be incredibly disappointing.

    Ranger’s “Where Evil Dwells” didnt live up to the potential they set on their EP’s either

    I dont think “The Book of Souls” could really be considered a disappointment as Iron Maiden hasnt put out a really good album in a long time…In fact Id say this was just the opposite, despite its flaws, it was better than expected.

    Soilwork wasnt disappointing either, the fact that theyre completely underwhelming should be expected

    • Not heard it.

      Not heard it.

      Disagree.

      You are a wrong person.

      • “Disagree”

        Really, because Ive got to ask, when was the last time you think Maiden put out an album that really had everyone excited. I honestly dont think Maidens got many bad albums in their discography, but the last time I think they really put out something flat out impressive was “Brave New World”

        “You are a wrong person.”

        Whatever helps you sleep at night 🙂

        • Heroin, mainly.

          • Really, I would think pure boredom induced by Soilwork would be more than enough

            • Nah, the only thing better than an injection of sweet nectar… is tripping balls whiie listening to some pure A-Grade melodeath (by which I mean “A Predator’s Portrait”, “Natural Born Chaos” or “The Living Infinite”… and maybe “Figure Number Five” too, just for fun).

  10. I actually liked the Negura Bunget and Khors albums, just not as much as past efforts. Ghost Bath was dull in the extreme and, like Deafheaven, not remotely worthy of the press it got.

    • You may have noted (or not) that Deafheaven wasn’t mentioned on any of my lists, mainly because I felt it was neither “Great”, “Good” OR “Disappointing”… it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be, a conveniently neutered version of stuff being done better by other bands which is designed to appeal (though not exclusively, obviously) to people who normally wouldn’t go near anything labelled “Black Metal” otherwise.

      • Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m sure some people would point to Ghost Bath as one of said “other bands,” but I found them just as unremarkable. A pity because I love the label.

  11. Negură Bunget – Tău was my introduction to the band, and I wasn’t thoroughly impressed.

  12. Agreed on Hate. Solarflesh was one of my favourite albums of 2013, and it’s still one of my go-to death metal albums. But Crusade:Zero is just stale and overlong. The album should have been 45 minutes long, cut out the interludes and the boring slower tracks and just give us some brutal blackened death metal with some interesting atmospheric flourishes. I don’t like being harsh with them but I really enjoyed Solarflesh so this one disappinted me quite a bit.

    @9. Listen to the Cruciamentum album until you love it.

    • Hahaha…Ive been listening to Cruciamentum since their first demo, theyve been one of my favorites for awhile and while theres nothing wrong with this full length, it dosnt even come close to what they did on “Convocation of Crawling Chaos” or “Engulfed in Desolation”…so yeah, its kind of disappointing

      • Yeah fair enough mate – make sure to give the new Triumvir Foul album a listen though. No one else seems to think this, but to me it’s like if Cruciamentum and Teitanblood or Antediluvian had some putrid offspring and it’s *awesome*.

        • Oh yeah, totally agree about Triumvir Foul…thats an absolutely crushing album

          • Well shit, this is like the fifth day in a row that someone in a comment has unintentionally made me feel like a pathetic slacker for not writing something about Triumvir Foul’s new album. But there are so many lists to get ready for posting….

    • “stale” is probably a good choice of words actually.

      Though some friends of mine are currently on tour with them and apparently they’re still killing it live.

  13. You probably expect me to be livid about Maiden (Book of Souls is definitely my album of the year), but to be honest I was surprised just to find out you even liked them at all haha.

    So I will settle for that

    • I am actually pretty surprised by this. I know our tastes don’t always agree, but the idea that TBoS would be anywhere near the “best” album of the year just does not compute.

      Is it just “because it’s Iron Maiden”?

      • While I don’t necessarily appreciate that you think I pick something for name and name alone (I’ve had many disappointments this year in music, you’ll notice my beloved and life-long cherished Blind Guardian is not even on my top 40 list of this year), I’d like to point out that because it’s Iron Maiden, my standards are exceedingly high.

        New Maiden, is by far, my favorite. Brave New World has been my number one album period, for a long time. And since then, I’ve held each album up to a similar standard, and I find Book of Souls completely delivers on all fronts. The music is engaging and fun, exciting and interesting, the repetition is carefully measured and appropriate I find, there is a good balance of shorter and longer songs, the lyrics are interesting, the duelling solos and harmonized leads are in full force. Bruce’s giant and majestic vocals canvas the album, and Empire of the Clouds is easily one of the best epic’s of their career, the structuring and pace is perfect.

  14. I liked this site better when they keep away from the negative reviews. I’m much more interested in hearing about what you liked rather than what you didn’t. Preface it however you want, it’s still negative.

    • I think everyone knows how I feel about this, and I’ll just say it’s the only day out of 365 days in the year when we post something like this.

    • Why thank you, I WILL preface it however I want.

    • Actually I’d just like to pipe up and say I appreciate this post – the intro really lays it out loud and clear that it’s not meant to insult or degrade the bands. Plus, it’s clear Andy’s put some thought and provides some good descriptions about each pick.

      But let’s face it, there’s always times we’re amped for a new album, eagerly awaiting, only to feel deflated afterwards. Like Pavlov rings the bell and then there’s no food and you’ve just got your tongue hanging out drooling with nothing to really chew on. And you just want a friend to turn to and say “*sob* I’m so disappointed in the new *** album, it’s like my favourite band died..” But none of your non-metalhead friends could ever understand and you’re so bitterly alone, so cold and alone in your musical misery…. actually now that I think about it, even disappointing albums are metal 😉

  15. I think I mentioned this earlier, but one of my biggest disappointments this year has been Secrets of the Sky. To Sail Black Waters was one of the best releases of its year, but Pathways just really failed to grab me, and felt kinda bland.

    • This. The new Secrets Of The Sky album was my most anticipated release of the year, and it ended up being mostly generic black-doom. Heartbreaking.

  16. Re: Soilwork, that album came across as incredibly disappointing to me….at first. It was a grower, for sure, and now I think it’s easily their best. The only song I still haven’t warmed up to is “Enemies in Fidelity”. The chorus is annoying. Otherwise I love the album.

  17. I’ve always been ambivalent about Locrian: on paper, they seem to be the perfect combo of noise/metal/drone that would hit all my pleasure-triggers–yet their albums have always left me wanting. I took a chance on catching an afternoon set in a basement club during the Hopscotch festival this year and was absolutely electrified. One of the best 45 minutes of my years, no contest. Powerful in every way. So I picked up the new album… and felt underwhelmed once again. Hmm. Still, I heartily recommend catching them live if you get the chance.

  18. For me the biggest disappointment was Nile – What Should Not be Unearthed. Had high hopes for them after a very underwhelming At The Gate of Sethu and was looking for their next to be a return to form in vein of Those Whom The Gods Detest. But, sadly, that was not the case.

  19. Well, that was unexpected. Not one album mentioned I even recall listening to. I guess that puts me in the camp that agrees with you.

    Some of my personal disappointments:
    Ouroboros – Emanations
    Gorod – A Maze of Recycled Creeds
    SunLess Rise – Unrevealed

    Although these aren’t bad albums by a long shot, they simply didn’t manage to live up to the greatness that I had in mind for them. (This particularly goes for the SunLess Rise record, seeing as I wrote a hysterical note to Islander that it ought to be featured. Two days later, I already longed back to the superior material of the 2009 original.)

    • Ha, “agreements by default”… I’ll take it!

      Although we very much disagree on the Gorod one, as I found this one to be WAY more melodically/creatively interesting than the previous one (though even that wasn’t at all a “Bad” album).

  20. Gorguts put out the worst METAL album this year – don’t deny it. Stop trying to be different – you’re only appealing to hipsters. Have fun with that. I thought I’d found a credible metal music site to frequent. Apparently not – laters!

  21. Damn Andy, you hit the nail on the head with this one. I agree wholeheartedly with Vreid, Ghost Bath and Drudkh being on this list. Drudkh hits especially hard since Eternal Turn of the Wheel was such a phenomenal album for me, I’ll even go so far as to say it was integral to getting that particular style of black metal to “click” with me when I was new to it. So naturally I had them held to probably an unrealistically high standard. Only disagreement I have is with Locrian, but admittedly I am historically a lot more forgiving to that extra “cerebral” style of extreme metal. My reaction is kind of like when I say I’m a Steelers fan: “Oh you’re not? .. I get that”.

  22. I think overall there are few disappointing albums this year. Soilwork I agree wholeheartedly on. KoK I did like, but especially the first few tracks so I can live with the fact that this album wasn’t the greatest.

    Overall, good set of lists as every year, which at the very least show me what I missed this year.

  23. I would add Arcturus to this list. What a total disappointment that album was, especially after almost 10 years of nothing.

  24. Andy, I totally agree with everything you say about the new Maiden album…but I still love it. I can’t help myself. I really liked the Locrian as well, agree to disagree on that one. Was a bit underwhelmed by releases by High on Fire, Black Breath and Krallice as well this year. Good albums, didn’t really live up to my expectations though.

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