(As part of our annual nearly complete 2015 LISTMANIA series, we present a year-end list assembled by some people we’re very fond of — Durf, Mick, Jack, and Tom from the Brutalitopia metal blog.)
Welcome to the Brutalitopia Töp 10, which has been so kindly hosted by our good friend Islander here at NCS. For those of you who don’t know us, we are a collective of 4 morons (3 in Chicago and 1 in New Jersey) who post reviews and do the occasional podcast every year or 2. We have recently started to use our general malaise to our advantage with our Brutally Short reviews where we piece together short reviews in a magazine-type format so as to say we produce something once in a while.
While painstakingly putting this list together I noticed that we happen to have collectively shed some light on some albums that some sites and magazines haven’t, so when going through the collective lists of Durf, Mick, Myself, and the yet-to-be-published (if ever) Jack, I have come up with a solid list of 10, whittled down from a collective of 39 albums total. You’ll find snippets from each of our lists to sum up our feelings on the albums if we thought it was worth a mention, or maybe several passing words from a list in progress (or pulled from Facebook messenger, but who can really tell). For now here are 5 albums that just missed the cut:
Tempel – The Moon Lit Our Path
Scale the Summit – V
Between The Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Clutch – Psychic Warfare
High on Fire – Luminiferous
10. Sarpanitum – Blessed Be My Brothers
Tom’s Take: Birmingham’s Sarpanitum surprised me this year as I was absolutely blindsided by the intensity of this mythology-influenced beast. Certainly, bands like Nile come to mind whenever you mention Egypt or areas geographically near there, but leave it to these Brits to blast through these songs with technical aplomb. Whether it be the power of ‘By Virtuous Reclamation’ or the beautiful Nile-meets-Dying Fetus on ‘I Defy For I Am Free’ or the stunning transitional track ‘Homeland’; these guys are just getting things started career-wise and it only looks like they’ll continue to pummel along the way.
Jack’s Take: It’s fucking outstanding.
9. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
Tom’s Take: Progressive metal stalwarts, Intronaut have put out a wonderfully heavy and jazz-oriented and all-around stellar piece of music. Joe Lester’s bass work is reminiscent of that of late Yes bassist Chris Squire as he blows through technical sections that, while complex, are just a great complement to the rest of the band as a collective. Sacha Dunable and crew continue to evolve, and The Direction is no exception; a finely crafted piece of music by veterans of the progressive metal scene.
Mick’s Take: Intronaut’s Habitual Levitations album from two years ago saw the band take a turn toward the more progressive elements of their palette. The Direction of Last Things continues on in that same spirit of forward thinking, but also makes sure that we have plenty of thick guitar tones and bass lines that provide plenty of memorable moments. Right from the get-go with “Fast Worms”, we find that Intronaut takes its Meshuggah rhythm stylings seriously, but structure them within the contexts of stoner metal guitars as opposed to falling down the slippery slope of djent. In addition, the band sets off these heavy-hitting riffs with progressive instrumental segues that share more with free-form jazz than anything else. Sacha Dunable’s vocals are also much improved. As opposed to the band’s previous release, Dunable uses deep growls to further drive home the heavier moments. At the same time, his clean vocals blend in as seamlessly as they ever have. The Direction of Last Things is a honing of Intronaut’s craft, a craft that never ceases to impress and captivate.
8. Steven Wilson – Hand.Cannot.Erase.
Mick’s Take: Hand. Cannot. Erase., the fourth solo album from Steven Wilson, continues giving us insight into Wilson’s unrestrained progressive sensibilities. What’s unique about Hand. Cannot. Erase. is that, unlike Wilson’s past solo releases, which comparatively were a hodgepodge of musical experimentations that had less conceptual structure, the album has distinct shifts in mood in noticeable relation to the overarching theme. It is very much an album of two halves. Based on the true story of Joyce Vincent, the album focuses on the idea of human isolation and the harrowing possibility of fading out of existence without others realizing. Warm and upbeat tracks like “3 Years Older” and the title track are balanced by tracks like “Routine” that bring the obscenely morose to the forefront. “Ancestral” could also very well be the best track Wilson has created during his solo career. Individual tracks from Hand. Cannot. Erase. may not pack the same punch as some from his previous efforts, but the album overall demonstrates Wilson’s continued mastery over crafting a narrative through the paradigm of progressive rock/metal.
Durf’s Take: A stunning, engaging masterpiece in every sense of the word, Hand.Cannot.Erase finds Steven Wilson crafting a concept album about loneliness and isolation in the modern world. While other albums have managed to serve as a mirror to a moment in time, Hand.Cannot.Erase is the first album I’ve found that reflects life itself in the 21st century, as we are all far more connected than we’ve ever been while simultaneously drifting further and further apart. It’s a lofty statement, and in the hands of a lesser artist it may come across as preachy, condescending, or pretentious, but Wilson nails it. The music runs the spectrum from mournful ballads (“Routine,” “Happy Returns”) to love songs (“Hand.Cannot.Erase,” “Perfect Life”) to intense progressive rock nightmares (“Ancestral”), all while fitting together into a cohesive album that represents the very best the format has to offer. Hand.Cannot.Erase is one of the very best concept albums I’ve ever experienced, and Steven Wilson continues to be one of my favorite songwriters and musicians working today. Please listen to this album; I really do think you’ll like it.
7. Tribulation – The Children Of The Night
Tom’s Take: A band that has undergone a huge transformation in 2015 is Sweden’s Tribulation. Gone are the days of death metal, and in its place is a more extreme progressive metal that is nearly a rock and roll album. This feels like the album Opeth should have followed Watershed with; an album that would effectively bridge the gap between that and Enslaved’s Vertebrae. Not being a big fan of Tribulation’s prior work, I found this album instantly enjoyable, and with tracks like ‘The Motherhood of God’ you see the band unlock its full potential. A real nod to this album’s greatness was a spot on the upcoming Decibel Magazine tour in 2016. I expect you all to be there!
Jack’s Take: It’s so fucking rock n roll and even poppy sounding at times. I like to refer to it as blackabilly. I love the shit out of it.
6. Royal Thunder – Crooked Doors
Durf’s Take: One of the poppiest, most well-written metal albums in recent years, Crooked Doors features painfully intimate lyrics over music that threatens to annihilate any sort of genre barriers trying to contain it. Vocalist Mlny Parsonz – who a friend described as “sounding like Stevie Nicks channeling Layne Staley” – is an absolute revelation, deftly moving from slow croon to blistering shout throughout the album, and always nailing it (while also laying down some pretty nice bass lines). Guitarists Josh Weaver and Will Fiore prove equally versatile
Tom’s Take: Royal Thunder burst onto the scene a few years back with CVI, and it showcased the multi-talented Mlny Parsonz whose vocal range is only matched by Josh Weaver’s great guitar work. It felt, at times, that CVI was an enjoyable if tedious listen on repeat; Crooked Doors does not suffer from any of that. Tales of Parsonz and Weaver escaping from a cult serve as the plot to this album and show off musically how lost they were; it is an emotional journey.
As far as an emotional display, the best example has to be ‘Forgive Me, Karma’. It is a song that I have attached quite personally to my own journey into parenthood and how I would stop at nothing to care for my family. Parsonz and Weaver left that environment due to their mutual care for one another and are able to speak about their experiences through song. Rock with a heart and a beautiful and stirring one at that.
5. Crypt Sermon – Out of The Garden
Tom’s Take: With all of the good and great albums of the year in 2015, my love affair with Out of the Garden started back in late 2014 via Dark Descent’s Facebook page when the artwork was officially revealed. The instant reaction to such a grandiose piece of art was that, this has to be Epic Doom Metal. Surely it would be in the vein of Candlemass, especially indicative of the period of Nightfall and Ancient Dreams. All of this is without even listening to any of the music.
Lo and behold, when I finally got a taste of the album it was love at first listen. Brooks Wilson is a great combination of Messiah Marcolin and Ronnie James Dio; the wonderful Steve Jansson is a riffmaster unto his own, and the rest of the band complement this main duo quite well. With plenty of heavy riffing sections that do not stray down the path of the countless number of stoner doom bands, this is doom metal pure and simple; albeit with soaring vocals and guitar solos.
Crypt Sermon are only starting out as a collective, and I know they are hard at work on their next material. It is truly amazing that a band that wanted to so very much pay respect to the bands of the past has become such a beast unto itself. They can only continue to strive from here, since in the band’s own words they are “only just starting out” writing these kinds of songs. My sincere thanks to Steve and also Enrique for all of the entertainment they have provided me during the course of the year.
Jack’s Take: Holy ballz.
4. Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Mick’s Take: Certainly no strangers to being the focal point of asinine criticism or blind adoration, Deafheaven is back continuing to not care what you think, but still putting out fantastic records. New Bermuda distances itself from the warm and bright sophistication that permeated Sunbather, the band’s previous release, and instead gears itself toward darker undertones that are driven by more clear-cut guitar riffage. It has the rawness of Roads to Judah and the charm of Sunbather but makes it all sound a whole lot meaner.
George Clarke’s screams sound as gritty as ever, making a perfect accent on the intensity of the other instruments enveloping it. With in-your-face blast-beat drumming and shredding guitars changing pace at a moment’s notice into slow transitioning sections of soft shoegazey guitar notes, the blue prints of New Bermuda are business as usual for Deafheaven. Where this album surpasses the previous two, though, is that all facets of the aforementioned blueprints have a certain attitude about them that feels less manufactured. Where previous efforts may be more raw in terms of the sound of the music, New Bermuda is more raw in relation to the emotional output. Everything just rings truer. Take a vacation to new New Bermuda, folks. It’s well worth your while.
Jack’s Take: People really hate Deafheaven.
3. Leviathan – Scar Sighted
Durf’s Take: One of the most unsettling, truly disturbing albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Scar Sighted rewards numerous repeat listens, as there is always something more to discover just beneath the surface.
Mick’s Take: Scared, confused, disturbed, and awe-struck. These are but a few emotions I can recall simultaneously feeling after listening through Leviathan’s Scar Sighted for the first time. All the previous entries on my list have elements about them that are fairly easy to single out and analyze as to why I enjoy them so much, but it’s a different story with Scar Sighted. There are so many different elements at play with this album that it’s by far the most dense album I’ve listened to, not only this year but perhaps ever. It’s moreover classified as black metal, but all aspects of this album are in so much flux all the time, you could easily make a case for just about anything else.
What I am 100% sure about this album, however, is that whatever it is that’s confined within its boundaries is evil…..damn evil. Jef Whitehead’s vocals start the album off as deep as something you’d expect from funeral doom, but subsequent tracks will vary between black metal shrieks and regular singing that isn’t so much singing as it is the wailing of a tortured soul. The track “Dawn Vibration” best represents this and is an early tell of how eclectic and jarring of a listen Scar Sighted is as a whole.
Something else about this album that stuck out is how unapologetic it is. When I mentioned that the album is evil, I mean that it is evil throughout its entirety. It doesn’t let up for a second. The constant shifts in song structures often feel as though you’re listening to the soundtrack of your unraveling sanity; something that’s more enjoyable than it sounds at face value, trust me. The album is also capped off beautifully by “Aphonos”, a track that will leave you utterly speechless after enduring the insanity of the rest of the album.
Scar Sighted is an album that is so tightly knit together with so many different facets that you’re guaranteed a unique listening experience every single time. I still hear new things I never picked up on any previous listen. Leviathan absolutely nailed it with this album. As unsettling as it may be, you owe it to yourself to experience Scar Sighted.
2. Horrendous – Anareta
Mick’s Take: I still have yet to listen to Horrendous‘ debut album, The Chills, and thought their follow up, Ecdysis, was a smidge overrated, but with Anareta I can finally understand the hype. Accessibility is not a term one would commonly associate with death metal, but Anareta incorporates just that into the band’s early-’90s death metal foundation.
Don’t misunderstand accessibility for clean vocals, though; there’s nothing but throaty high-pitched screams reminiscent of the great Chuck Schuldiner to be found here. By accessible, I mean that this album is an absolute riff-fest. Riff after riff is pulled from some place in the ether that seems like it should only be accessible to the death metal gods themselves. Album opener “The Nihilist” rushes out of the gate with an all-out assault on your ears, where tracks such as “Sum of All Failures” and “The Solipsist” utilize clean guitar sections to break up the madness. Anareta is such a well-written album that it has something to offer for all fans of metal, not just death metal fans. Time to put those air guitars to good use.
Tom’s Take: The career trajectory of Horrendous is one of a band with humble beginnings and then of exponential growth. Anareta is the culmination of all of the things that Horrendous have ever done and it is an ode to past and present. The death metal band covers many bases such as building upon the success of Ecdysis and more or less bringing their sound to 1991 levels.
Whether it be the massive pummeling of ‘The Nihilist’ or the stellar musicianship of bridge track ‘Siderea’ or ‘Ozymandias’, this album is clearly the cream of the death metal crop in 2015. It is accessible to all fans of metal and is so wonderfully well-written that you’d be angry at yourself for not having found it earlier in the year. While it is certainly more Symbolic than Human, it shows the constant evolution of a band within one genre without having to drastically change their sound. Horrendous has never been more beautiful.
Jack’s Take: It’s such an amazing fucking album.
Durf’s Take: For my money, I’ve always preferred black metal that’s more on the ambient, pensive side of things. That all goes out the window with Exercises in Futility, one of the best albums I’ve encountered in the genre. The principle riff in “Exercises in Futility V” is just so monstrously wonderful, I get chills just thinking about it.
Mick’s Take: There’s something about seeing an album performed live that makes you realize that a great album may actually be a transcendent one. I didn’t see and hear Exercises in Futility played in its entirety, but witnessing half of it was enough to realize that Poland’s Mgła struck gold with their latest release.
The thing about Exercises is that for an album that paints such a dreary and oppressive picture, as the album title would suggest, it’s simultaneously uplifting to hear an album that’s so tightly constructed. This cohesiveness is mostly apparent through the maturity of the album’s pacing. While there are sections that blast by with lightning-fast drum work and blaring riffs, there are just as many mid-paced elements Mgła uses to keep the listener’s undivided attention. It’s also refreshing not to have to hear a band use guitar solos as crutches.
Following in line with more traditional black metal, Mgła harnesses the power of the riff to enrapture; the best example of this being the track “V”. The riff (you’ll know which one I mean when you listen) on “V” tears holes through other dimensions and is not to be taken lightly. Mgła’s stock continues to rise with Exercises in Futility. Time to buy in.
Tom’s Take: Poland’s black metal outfit Mgla have taken the metal world by storm here in 2015, with the best black metal album the year has to offer. What feels like 6 pieces to a puzzle as opposed to an album, Exercises In Futility tremolo picks its way into the hearts of extreme metal fans with the kind of unadulterated melody that you expect from Windir. With no apologies from the band for having such a wide appeal to even music fans with a cursory interest in the genre, Mgla have successfully dodged the “not kvlt enough” bullet from long-time fans. They have only amassed a larger following for future endeavors; hopefully, there is much for this band on the horizon.
Jack’s Take: In what was already a banner year for underground black metal, Poland’s Mgła had a lot of competition to face. They crushed all of it, and everything else in their path, as mercilessly as the lyrics and aura of Exercises in Futility unmistakably suggest they might. With the formula for critically successful black metal continuing to inch toward an oftentimes clunky mixture of modern rock stylings, lengthy ambient interludes, and the traditional griminess of washed out tremolo guitars and blast beats, Mgła instead did more with far, far less. While undeniably inventive at moments, Exercises in Futility is a masterstroke of sticking to one’s guns, with simple yet unforgettable riffs and sonic nihilism incarnate carrying the load from start to finish.
“Effortless” is a word that immediately comes to mind, as the modesty of so much of Exercises in Futility is punctuated by truly enigmatic talent from Mgła’s two principle members, M. and Darkside. Just listen to the use of cymbals in “V” or the finishing riff in “I” to get a feel for just how confident these two are in their ability to pull the most out of every song they craft. The difficulty in capturing both genuine anger and unsettling beauty while almost wholly avoiding crutches like synthesizers, orchestral arrangements, or choral vocals cannot be understated, and Mgła turn their noses up at that difficulty at every corner and hook.
It’s the sort of album that will be referenced for years to come as one that injected new life into black metal by harnessing the emotion that always made it compelling, while also introducing heft and confidence in the most stripped-down and basic of manners. The underground wasn’t going to contain Mgła for long, and Exercises in Futility happened to be the dynamite that released them.
So that’s the list. Look forward to some more fun and tomfoolery when Brutalitopia does MDF part II! Like us on Facebook too while you’re at it.