(Here’s Part 2 of Austin Weber’s year-end round-up of music. Go HERE to see Part 1, which had a death metal focus. In this part, Austin delves into mathcore, prog, grind, and Kvlt Cold Kvts.)
If anyone reading this hasn’t seen my prior year-end lists here at NCS, I try to bring you an alternative list of some of the best music of the year. Which means I won’t post a lot of releases that you see on other lists. Not because I didn’t dig a lot of them, but because you already know about them and will be seeing a lot of the same names being repeated elsewhere.
In addition to this massive year-end list, I also did one at Metal Injection, but my objective for this one is to focus on lesser-known groups and show you more jams from the year that not enough people heard.
Quotes that appear below the following records were pulled from my reviews, multi-band articles, and song premieres, and more than 20 in this two-part feature are from my posts over at Metal-Injection for releases that I didn’t cover here at NCS. But you’ll also find some new mini write-ups for releases I didn’t get a chance to cover anywhere this year, but loved as well. This is an unordered list as far as “ranking” goes. Hope you find some nu jamz!
CVLLED KVLT COLD CVTS
Genevieve – Escapism
“Escapism is truly an immersive record that takes you somewhere else, even though I’d hardly call it a diverting escape from reality. It’s more like a musical reinforcement of the horror and despair all around us that we can’t wish away. It’s not a record that is likely to appeal to fans of conventional black and death metal, but what it does offer, in spite of its sheer ugliness and noisiness, is quite striking and brilliant.”
Maladie – Still
“For those unfamiliar with the band (and missed my write-up last year of their debut album, Plague Within), they fall within the paradigm of avant/progressive black metal, though that tag is a bit outdated as a description of the band now, as they went through several lineup shifts that saw them add several new people, including a saxophone player who provides the record with numerous memorable solos; a new bass player; a new drummer; and a third guitarist.
As for their current sound, it’s a bit different since they now have two guitarists whose other bands dwell in the realms of technical death metal. As a result, the music on …Still… sees Maladie infusing their multi-faceted black metal core with a fair bit of tech-death, largely in ways reminiscent of bands such as The Faceless and Anata. This is an interesting twist on the current trend of technical death metal bands embellishing their music with elements of black metal for more variety. Here, it’s complex black metal with technical death metal influences woven in, and the result is both brilliant and fresh-sounding.”
Imperial Triumphant – Abyssal Gods
“Abyssal Gods is not only a high point for a band who have already released some truly incredible music, it is also an album that truly is an evolutionary milestone within the black metal genre. It’s almost as if Imperial Triumphant found a way to channel every dark and vicious part of human nature, every violent, fearful, and horrific thing, and made it all real in audio form, like a living testament to nightmares captured in sound, ripe with trembling disgust and unwellness. Records like this don’t come out every day, nor even every year. Abyssal Gods is a stunning and surreal piece of perversion and an ode to decay that deserves more than mere accolades — it deserves to be remembered for all that it is, long after most albums pass out of memory.”
Devouring Star – Through Lung And Heart
“For those still unfamiliar with Devouring Star, they are a Finnish act that draw a sizable influence from the stylings and form of black metal that Deathspell Omega founded. However, I would venture to say the inspiration has more to do with informing the sonic ingredients that Devouring Star use in their compositions than sounding like a copycat act or watered-down hero worship.
“I for one am enamored with bands such as Devouring Star, as they showcase fresh new ways of twisting black metal, offering a different take on a style that often is too samey and traditional for my tastes. What’s equally impressive about Devouring Star and this material is that the band has only one member, who goes by JL, who conceived all of this madness by himself, though he did have some session musician help in making his tortured visions a reality.”
Apparatus – Apparatus
I first wrote about the blackened experimental death metal horde Apparatus last year here at NCS when they released a lengthy “demo” called Demonomicon. But to back up a bit, I first found out about these guys because half of the line-up is two people from Defilementory whose record last year I loved and still play frequently. Apparatus snuck up on me and I failed to cover it until now, unfortunately. If you like heaving shrouds of dissonant darkness, unearthly atmospheric rumblings, and getting lost in the abyss, then this is your jam.
Chaotorynth – Axiomatic Limitations
“Sole member Dudley Grant has created a weird, off-the-beaten-path black metal record, sort of like Deathspell Omega run through an Ion Dissonance-Breathing Is Irrelevant style of songwriting, with few parts that repeat.
“Or alternatively it sounds somewhat like the befuddling madness of the recent Mastery record that Islander and I wrote about at the site this year. This is incredibly technical and dissonant stuff, definitely not for everyone, but incredibly interesting regardless of how you feel about it. If you ever feel like getting constantly bitchslapped by a massive wall of chaos, put on Axiomatic Limitations.”
Veilburner – Noumenon
“There’s a tired-but-true maxim that applies well in the music realm: ‘Strike while the iron is hot’. While you’ve got people’s attention, jam more music down their throats and keep things moving. Veilburner have adhered strictly to this line of thought.
“Last year, I and writers from several other sites hailed The Three Lightbearers, the debut full-length by this nightmare-inducing Pennsylvania-based death/black duo, as a highlight of 2014. Now, the band are already roaring back with their sophomore ode to chaos and annihilation, Noumenon….”
Dendritic Arbor – Romantic Love
“If you pride yourself for your love of truly fucked-up metal records, the kind that reflect the depravity of both human nature and the world at large, you’re going to want to get your hands on Romantic Love. This album is nothing short of remarkable, for beyond its boundless chaos and hatred lie so many memorable moments that stick with you and will keep you coming back for more replays.”
Dendritic Arbor – Sentient Village//Obsolescent Garden
This is probably the first time I’ve ever listed the same band twice in a year-end list, but then again few bands release more than one thing a year. Sentient Village//Obsolescent Garden is a new EP by Dendritic Arbor that comes out December 30th. Having heard all of it, I thoroughly enjoy it while also appreciating the subtle differences between the music here and on Romantic Love. Pretty recently I helped premiere a full stream of the EP at NCS and urge you to check that out here.
Mastery – V.A.L.I.S.
“Mastery’s greatest strength lies in its chaotic and stitched-together-sounding nature. It all coalesces together in spite of its choppy flow and the endless stream of new sections spitting forth from the vale. I don’t think I’ve ever heard black metal taken to such a furious zenith of intensity. It almost shouldn’t work — the swirling mix and match between old school black metal riffing, angular grooves, tortured dissonance, bizarre, almost mathy riffs, surprise interludes, alien warped lead guitar clusters, and the absolutely off-the-wall way it all comes together in one massive swirling murk.”
Dead In The Manger – Cessation
I believe it was from a post by Islander that I first heard about Dead In The Manger earlier this year, though sadly I didn’t end up getting around to covering it. Dead In The Manger fuse together black metal with grindcore and doom into an apocalyptic sonic tornado not for the faint of heart. Instead of the common trend of infusing grind with black metal, Cessation offers the opposite, a black metal framework enhanced by a grind undercurrent. The doomy passages within their songs also help add that something extra to what they do.
The strangest thing about this record is that it was reviewed at a lot of places, but it seems the release went under most metal music fans’ radars. Here’s your chance to correct that if you didn’t hear this gem. Definitely one of 2015’s best releases.
MATHCORE AND MATH-ROCK MANIA
The Crinn – Shadowbreather
“The Crinn are right up there alongside Psyopus in terms of intensity and they are one of only a handful of groups who transcend merely imitating The Dillinger Escape Plan, by adding their own legitimate progression to what influenced them musically. With Shadowbreather, they’ve taken an interesting risk in adding psychedelia to their sound, but they make it work incredibly well.
“What I’m really trying to say is that you really need to hear Shadowbreather, even if you aren’t typically a fan of this style. This record rules!”
Oblivionized – Life Is A Struggle, Give Up
“A strong technical and rhythmically insane Dillinger Escape Plan influence is noticeable throughout the record, yet there’s so much more going on here that to describe it as mere ‘math grind’ would fail to encompass everything else the record consists of. The band frequently delve into rabid deathgrind passages that would make Discordance Axis, Pig Destroyer, and Maruta proud to share their company. They also thread in plenty of shrill dissonance and lumbering drawn-out passages in a way that sometimes reminds me of Gaza. Finally, there are some full-throttle, near technical-death-metal moments tossed into this infernal meat-grinding machine of an album as well.
“As if it weren’t enough that the band have created a dense, hybridized sound, it’s their chaotic and swiftly stitched-together songwriting that really makes Life Is a Struggle, Give Up one of the most batshit insane and incredible grind records I’ve ever heard.“
Save Us From The Archons – Fear Eats The Soul
“While it’s sonically similar to their past releases of metallic-coated, math-rock, melodic shred material, Fear Eats The Soul sees the band stepping up and outwards in their compositions. There is more room devoted to lush, softer, building passages on Fear Eats The Soul, while the EP still retains the band’s high-octane yet smooth core sound.”
Witch Of The Waste – Made Out Of Teeth
“Like a modern spin on the chaotic metallic hardcore wave of old, Witch Of The Waste come cross similar to phenomenal acts such as Burnt By The Sun, Dillinger, As The Sun Sets, and Ed Gein. Neither completely a metal or hardcore record, Made of Teeth straddles the line in a spazzy way that’s always interesting and unique. In addition Made Of Teeth also injects some grim and smashing black metal elements into their brand of sonic life-ending napalm.”
Ni – Les insurgés de Romilly
“Ni are a French mathcore band whose madness you have to hear to understand, though to try to explain, they give off a demented Mr. Bungle vibe that’s paired with a hefty jazz influence and more mind-bending polyrhythms than you can possibly keep track of.”
Sein Zum Tode – Siamese Second Cousins Never Removed
“To paraphrase how I formerly described them in my review of their 2013 debut beeep, imagine a fucked up merger between Psyopus and Mr Bungle’s creepier dark moments with some of their trademark carnival twists, and you arrive somewhere within the sonic realms of Sein zum Tode. As far as three-piece bands go, they create one hell of a ruckus, and it’s the interesting kind of ruckus if you weren’t able to piece that together from the preceding words.”
Sea Monkey See – Mookie Island
“Sea Monkey See are a strange instrumental trio based in L.A. While the music is clearly focused on math-rock, the delivery ranges from rock and roll to mathy sludge metal, punk, old school prog rock riffs and leads, and a hell of a lot of fast melodic bursts.
“Mookie Island raises the bar for where math-rock can go, and while the sub genre itself has diversified plenty since its beginning, Sea Monkey See have created a new pinnacle and a special place within it. Interesting yet fun, Mookie Island rarely keep things simple or sparse; this is often incredibly complex stuff that reminds me of the first Hella record, the definitive perfect math-rock record in my opinion.”
SOUPER PRAGUE OF ALL STRIPES AND FLAVORS
Felix Martin – The Human Transcription
“…[W]hen I wrote a review for a Felix Martin concert here at NCS, I didn’t get to talk about one of the most important things that happened that night. After Felix Martin and his band finished their set I went to inquire about merch and talk with them. When I asked Kilian Duarte, their bass player, just what was in this new CD called The Human Transcription that I hadn’t heard yet, he told me it was inspired by the last Blotted Science EP. I knew then that I had to buy it. Little did I know just how amazing it would be.
“To introduce the concept, here is an important explanation of it that I am quoting from Felix Martin’s website:
‘The Main concept of The Human Transcription is to extract the music that comes from spoken words, in this case, speeches in different languages. In other words, to notate the natural human speaking voice into music notation, and then arrange it to the musical instruments.'”
6:33 – Deadly Scenes
“Love them or hate them, Mr. Bungle has had an undeniably large impact on the music world. They re-defined progressive music in the modern era by conjoining various kinds of metal with an ever-changing array of other music styles. After their break-up, the members went on to other bizarre and out-there acts such as Fantomas, Tomahawk, and Secret Chiefs 3. It’s from within this branch of oddball musical eccentricity that the French band 6:33 draw liberally on their newly released record, Deadly Scenes.
“But upon closer inspection and several listens, it becomes evident that they’ve made some tweaks to this type of Dog Fashion Disco sound, and while sometimes it sounds too close to Mr. Bungle, Deadly Scenes is often brilliantly original. And in addition to playing in the vein of Mr. Bungle, their is a recurring, almost-Devin–Townsend vibe going on that really works in their favor.”
Naked Roots Conducive – Sacred521
“I think one of the most wonderful things about avant-garde and experimental music is how it seems to transport you to a very strange yet intense place where you may have to adapt in order to fully appreciate it. Such is the case with the New York City-based duo called Naked Roots Conducive. The two members are Natalia Steinbach, who plays violin and sings, and Valerie Kuehne, who plays cello and and sings as well. The range and scope of the music on their new album Sacred521 is impressive, and I’d say additionally impressive because no other instruments beyond violin, cello, and their two voices appear on the album.
“Records such as Sacred521 are difficult to describe, since there aren’t many other people doing anything similar, and the musical lines they straddle coalesce into a sound that doesn’t fit into any established musical style. Naked Roots Conducive craft exquisite and intricate songs that are part classical music, and part nightmarish film score instrumentation, accompanied by heavenly singing courtesy of each member.”
Abnormal Thought Patterns – Altered States Of Consciousness
“California-based Abnormal Thought Patterns are in my estimation one of a rare breed of astonishing instrumental metal acts deserving of praise and much more press, yet who are somehow among the least-mentioned instrumental groups (which I don’t understand). The last time I wrote about them here at NCS was when I put the band’s 2013 record, Manipulation Under Anesthesia, on my lengthy 2013 year-end list. Fortunately, the band have a new record to engage with and be enamored by called Altered States Of Consciousness….”
Spires of the Lunar Sphere – Pangaea Ultima
Do you remember groups like The #12 Looks Like You and Horse The Band? Pepperidge Farm does…. shit wrong message. Spires Of The Lunar Sphere manage to sound like a merger between the two aforementioned groups with a dash of Crotchduster-esque, tongue-in-cheek, constant genre-flipping to it.
The Fine Constant – Woven In Light
“The Fine Constant have once again proven themselves to be a promising young voice in the instrumental progressive metal scene. In fact, Woven In Light contains seven of the best progressive instrumental metal compositions you’ll hear all year. It’s an incredible record full of many moods, from mindbending insanity to lush and often inspiring warmth and soul, which radiates a feeling of peace and wonder uniquely their own.”
Bearstorm – Americanus
“While I’ve seen them promoted as black metal-meets-post-rock, I don’t believe that really tells you why they are special; what they do consists of so much more than that limiting description. It’s clear throughout Americanus, for example, that the band have a love affair with massively heavy and crushing sludge riffs, while adding a fitting bluesy layer to those elements. But more than just that, Bearstorm clearly have a soft spot for prog rock in the vein of acts such as King Crimson and other kindred sonic adventurers.
“Taken as a whole, Americanus successfully confuses and intrigues in equal measure. By the end of its six songs, each largely consuming double-digits of minutes, I’m confident you’ll come away just as impressed and interested in their unique merger of ideas as I am.”
Consider The Source – World War Trio pt 2 and 3
Consider The Source are probably the greatest and most diverse modern prog band you’ve never heard of. I’ve been following these guys for a few years and last featured World War Trio Pt. 1 on my year-end list at NCS in 2014. Now the final parts of this sprawling release have dropped and they feature a lot more of the band’s eclectic musical deconstructions and bizarre genre fusions within every song.
Chronostasis – Cosmagida
“Many people consider Blotted Science to be at the pinnacle of today’s heavy instrumental metal spectrum; their peers are few, and even fewer attempt to take things as far forward as they have. Luckily, Chronostasis exist, and deserve to be as well-known as Blotted Science. A lofty statement and one that will be perceived as hyperbolic to be sure, but just give it a chance and trust me on this one.
“In an attempt at summation, Cosmagida comes across like an illogically conjoined merger of Atheist, Behold The Arctopus, and the afore-mentioned Blotted Science. This is high-minded and mind-boggling instrumental music, yet it never devolves into a mindless, noodly show-off mess. Easily my favorite instrumental death metal/prog./fusion record of the year.”
Upsilon Acrux – Sun Square Dialect
Sun Square Dialect is the 7th record by avant-prog weirdos Upsilon Acrux. This is strange music even for prog fans, as its experimental delivery and construction makes for anything but easy listening music — a trait Upsilon Acrux make possible in no small part by their unconventional lineup consisting of two drummers, two guitarists, and a xaxophone/Fender Rhodes (electric piano) player. Sun Square Dialect speaks in a language all its own, and trying to crack its code becomes a source of intrigue rather than frustration.
Perhaps – Third
One of my favorite prog-rock bands broke up this year. Perhaps will perhaps be missed by someone. Perhaps by me as well. Anyways, Third is a phenomenal prog journey and one hell of a record to bow out on.
Hadean – On Fading
Yet another release I’ve really loved from 2015 but didn’t find time to cover.
Hadean call themselves a “Chamber metal sextet” on their Bandcamp, and that’s a good way to put their complex and heady brew of heavy heights and proggy depths. Blackened post-everything experimental sax-infused prog anyone?
Blurring – Blurring
“With this debut album, Blurring have crafted a unique brand of grindcore that is pure murder music. It’s written more like a black/death crossbreed fueled by out of control drumming, but in the end it grinds like a death machine and dream-killer all in one. This has to be one of the most fucked-up and virulent grind records I’ve ever heard, truly deranged and evil shit. Yet within its world-weary and bleak depths, something about it is strangely quite lovely, if you appreciate the beauty in calculated chaos.”
Gross Ex Machina – Wounder
I struggled with where to put Gross Ex Machina in these lists. Ultimately, they have a unique progressive sound that defies simple genre classifications, so I decided to put them here with the grindcore-oriented bands even though it’s not solely grind, as elements of jazz, rock, and prog also make up parts of Gross Ex Machina’s odd yet entrancing sound. Wounder is very progressive musically, and their strange sound also reminds me of Pyrrhon in a sense. Fans of that band will go apeshit over Wounder. And rightly so.
Okazaki Fragments – Abandoned
“This is one deranged fucking record, sort of like what would happen if Gaza took a path down Gorguts’ and Ulcerate’s dissonant and atmospheric paths. So in essence, it’s weird hardcore-punk-influenced-grind meets primal hardcore meets weird death metal.”
Mary Todd – Shoot To Kill
Mary Todd is a three-piece tech-grind band from Brooklyn and they raise plenty of hell in three short bursts on Shoot To Kill. Listening to this is akin to falling down flights of stairs while simultaneously being tasered repeatedly. Brutal yet electrifying!
Amygdala (changed names to Cognizant now) – EPiphany
“EPiphany sounds like what would happen if Baring Teeth played grindcore — wonky stuff that’s several cuts above typical grind. Releases such as EPiphany are precisely why a lot of modern grind releases don’t impress me. When you hear grind elevated to the artistic plateau that Amygdala reach, well, little else seems as impressive in comparison.”
Estuarine – Lucid-Entheogen
Estuarine is a peculiar one-man band who delves into a lot of different genres and styles. But overall I’d say it’s black metal meets grind-oriented stuff. Lucid-Entheogen traverses a fairly schizophrenic flow, as the first half and second half of the records are designed around different musical ideas and structures.
Psudoku – Planetarisk Psudoku
“Imagine a grind band who are obsessed with old school prog and electronics meets something akin to grind weirdos Antigama, and you’d get Psudoku.”
Beaten To Death – Unplugged
“Once again, Beaten To Death have delivered the rarest kind of grind release: A record that’s memorable from start to finish. It’s melodic and atmospherically enhanced grind, and by atmospheric I mean a lot of the melodic components in their music sort of float slightly above the primary thrashing chaos, in a calming way, while the drums, rhythm guitar, and bass lock in unison and continue to blast forward at the same time.”