(This is the second installment in Andy Synn’s series of year-end lists, which began last week with a list of favorite EPs and splits. The opinions represent those of the author rather than the site as a whole, especially in the case of one of these 10 “disappointments”, the selection of which is an invitation to pistols at 20 paces come the dawn.)
…and so it begins.
For this year’s listravaganza I’ve decided to change things up a little by kicking off with the “Disappointing” albums, rather than the “Great” albums. It’s a small change, but it means we can build up towards the best of the year, rather than spiral downwards.
Now although we don’t do negative reviews here at NCS, I still feel like there’s a place for reasoned criticism in what we do.
That doesn’t mean tearing bands down or belittling their efforts, it simply means acknowledging that not every album is a 10/10, and that sometimes even the best bands slip up.
Ultimately this isn’t a list of “bad” albums. It’s just a bunch of releases from bands who could (or should) be able to do better.
Now, I understand that some of these picks may prove a little controversial.
On the one hand I realise that some of these albums may have been praised by other sites and publications, for various reasons, so I might be going a little against the grain here.
Plus I’m very aware that there are always going to be those people who absolutely lose their shit at even the barest hint of criticism directed towards their favourite band, and that those people will most likely shoot straight down to the comments section to attack my character, my abilities, and accuse me of bias/elitism/ignorance (delete as needed), in an effort to delegitimise my opinion.
But I am confident that most of our readers aren’t like that and, even if/when they disagree with my choices here, they’ll be able to express their disagreement in a rational and respectful way.
As a matter of fact I welcome a rational discussion about the relative merits of any of the albums or artists mentioned here. All I ask is this – before you fly off the handle and race to the comments section to give me a piece of your mind… take a breath, try and see things from my perspective, and understand that I’m not doing this because I have any sort of dastardly agenda.
I mean, I do… but it’s got nothing to do with music…
AENAON – HYPNOSOPHY
Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT to like about this album. But… and it’s a telling “but”… it’s also frustratingly unfocussed, and lacks the clarity of vision and purpose that made Extance such a stunning piece of work.
On the plus side however it does help me to immediately illustrate the fact that an album doesn’t have to be BAD to be considered a bit of a disappointment, as although Hypnosophy is a good album in many ways, it simply doesn’t live up to the standards set by its predecessor.
BLACK CROWN INITIATE – SELVES WE CANNOT FORGIVE
I feel like I made my feelings about this album pretty clear in my review, but perhaps they bear reiterating. I wanted to like this album a lot more than I ended up doing. I’m still a fan of the band, and I do still think there’s a brace of really good songs to be found on here. It’s just that, particularly when compared to Song of the Crippled Bull and The Wreckage of Stars, too much of Selves We Cannot Forgive feels fragmented and awkwardly put together. Things just don’t seem to gel or flow as well or as smoothly as they have previously. This doesn’t make it a “bad” album though, just a bit of a disappointing one.
DEFTONES – GORE
This is the first of several potentially controversial entries on this list, and for that I (semi) apologise.
It’s not that there aren’t good songs on Gore though. I’m particularly partial to “Prayers / Triangles” and “Hearts / Wires”. But the majority of this album is just so… bland.
It’s nowhere near terrible of course. These guys are far too talented and far too experienced for that. But this is far from their best work. Which is unfortunate as I was really hoping the band would go three for three after how good both Diamond Eyes and Koi No Yokan were.
ENTHEAN – PRIESTS OF ANNIHILATION
As much as I wanted to like Priests of Annihilation, the final product doesn’t quite live up to the band’s obvious potential. There’s enough material here – “Before You, I Am”, “Dysthnasia”, “Bring Forth the Raven”, “Invalesc de Profundis” – to make a REALLY good EP but, as an album, it’s only as good as it’s weakest link(s).
THE FORESHADOWING – SEVEN HEADS, TEN HORNS
Not a terrible album by any means, the chief issue with Seven Heads, Ten Horns, is its general lack of pizazz. There’s nothing really that stands out or makes a major impact. It’s competent, well-polished, and obviously sincere, but it never quite rises above merely “adequate”.
OMNIUM GATHERUM – GREY HEAVENS
If you’ve read my review of this album then you probably won’t be surprised to see it on this list. After two absolutely stellar albums in New World Shadows and Beyond, album number seven saw the fabulous Finns dropping the ball pretty hard.
It will have its defenders of course, but I can’t for the life of me understand anyone claiming that this is “one of the best albums of the year”. It’s just so… so… lacklustre.
Though there are some good tracks here and there, the majority of Grey Heavens sounds like the band trying to replicate the same formula which made both their previous albums so successful, but with none of the same spark. It’s the very epitome of the law of diminishing returns.
There’s a handful of really good songs (“The Pit” and “Storm Front” in particular), but a good 60-70 percent of this album is upsettingly skip-worthy.
OPETH – SORCERESS
Despite what some of you might think, I’m actually quite sad to be including this one here. I enjoyed Pale Communion quite a bit, and my early impressions of this album were (cautiously) positive.
Unfortunately it’s been ten years since Opeth last released a truly “Great” album (Ghost Reveries), and now that they’re properly settling into their new-found pure Prog groove, Sorceress really should have been a home-run, grand-slam, three-point touchdown.
Shut up, I know sports.
But it isn’t. Not because it’s “not Death Metal”, or anything like that, but because it’s just so depressingly unremarkable.
And we know that Opeth can do better than that. They have before, and I believe they can do again.
WALLS OF JERICHO – NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU FROM YOURSELF
You may not be aware of this, but I’m actually a big fan of Walls of Jericho. And, in fact, I’m a big fan of a lot of this album. More specifically the second half of this album, which picks up significantly after “Cutbird”.
In fact, the run of songs from “Cutbird” – “Relentless”, “Damage Done”, “Reign Supreme” – is actually pretty damn hot, the band cranking out those Hardcore-ised Slayer riffs and raging, impassoned vocals, like their lives depend on it.
But in the end this one is mainly a bit of a disappointment because of it’s 50:50 ratio between killer and filler. When it’s killer it’s really killer, but when it’s filler… well… it’s hard to keep your finger away from the ‘skip’ button.
WHITECHAPEL – MARK OF THE BLADE
Let me make one thing clear. This Is Exile, A New Era of Corruption, Whitechapel… these are all good albums. I’m a well-documented fan of the latter in particular. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed by this album.
Of course the band still have a hardened cadre of fanboys (and girls) willing to defend everything they do as amazing and new and totally unique… but I’m pretty sure even some of them must be able to smell that something’s not quite right here?
To be fair there’s nothing intrinsically terrible about Mark of the Blade. I’ve heard enough albums over the years that are badly written, badly played, or badly produced (often all three) to be able to say with confidence that this isn’t one of those. It’s just the sound of a band aiming straight for the middle.
You see, although some might claim that this is a “fresh, new direction” (for Whitechapel it may be, I suppose), in reality there’s nothing new or original here, as it’s mostly just a bland and toothless mash-up of torrid cliché and mawkish melodrama pulled straight from the Stone Sour/Slipknot Guide to Mainstream Success.
ZEAL AND ARDOR – DEVIL IS FINE
The idea of mixing Black Metal and African-American slave music undoubtedly sounds good on paper. After all, Black Metal often thrives when blended with folk and traditional elements. But where Zeal and Ardor is concerned, the execution simply doesn’t match the intention.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the songs here are pretty good on their own terms. But the whole package is notably less than the sum of its parts.
And, largely, this is because the two main musical elements – Black Metal and traditional slave chants – just aren’t blended together all that well in my opinion. As a matter of fact the divide between the two sides is often pretty striking, with whole segments (sometimes whole songs) cordoned off for one or the other, with not much in the way of “blending” going on at all.
Ultimately, while this album is certainly an interesting concept, it feels like a lot of the hype and praise it’s been getting has been for how interesting it is as an idea, more than how it sounds in actuality.
Now hopefully I won’t have pissed off too many of our readers here, and I hope that whatever criticisms I’ve laid out above come across in a way that’s as fair and as balanced as I’ve tried to be.
I’m not trying to start any shit-stirring flame-wars, or trolling for clicks (we don’t make any money off ads, or anything else, here at NCS, so there’d be no incentive towards any of that, even if I/we were so inclined). All I’m doing is offering an opinion.
And, since it’s an opinion, you’re free to disagree with it!
But I also hope that you can respect it. Only time will tell…
Anyway, onwards and upwards to bigger and better things. Tomorrow is the list of all the albums from this year (the ones I’ve heard anyway) that sit somewhere under that big ol’ bell-curve marked “Good”.
And it’s a big list, so I’m hopeful that there will be lots of new delights for you all to discover.
Until then, I bid you, adieu.