We’re coming down to the wire, and I’m in a frantic state of mind. I’ve now firmly decided to end this list on January 31, but I realized this morning that January 31 IS TOMORROW!!!
I spent hours yesterday afternoon and last night listening to many of the remaining candidates for the list, and reached the conclusion that I have to double-down on these posts. In other words, there will be two installments of this list today and two more tomorrow, and each one is going to include a lot of songs.
This one, as forecast by the title of the post, is devoted to Exceptions to Our Rule (the one in the site’s title). I’ve done this before in previous years, and have already named a few songs to the list this year that include clean vocals. There are some beautiful voices in this post, and a lot of highly addictive music as well (of course).
There is nothing I can say about The Assassination of Julius Caesar that hasn’t already been said with better words than I could assemble. We posted our review (by Andy), who concluded: “Regardless of its radio-friendly appeal, and despite its flagrant (yet subtly subversive) accessibility, The Assassination of Julius Caesar finds Ulver making music just as eclectic, and as immersive, as ever, pursuing their new direction – pop-stars for the avant-garde – with the same passion and conviction they displayed back in their Black Metal days”.
We heaped more praise on the album in our year-end lists. Joseph Schafer put it on his list of Top 10 Non-Metal Albums. He wrote: “It’s doubtful that the restless innovative spirit that is the core of Ulver will allow there to be a second coming of The Assassination of Julius Caesar. Treasure this (their best?) album now, and for always.”
NCS contributor Todd Manning also had it on his Top 10 list, praising it in such words as these: “This album is like a beam of concentrated light, powerful enough to cut a planet in half. So what if it has more sonically in common with Tears for Fears than it does with anyone else on this list? This is powerful stuff.”
And of course it appeared on tons of other year-end lists, everywhere. And I don’t care if it’s not really metal, “So Falls the World” gets me in the getting-place every time I listen to it, which is pretty damned often. The whole song appeals to me in ways that collectively exceed the (powerful) appeal of everything else on the album, including what happens at the 4:15 mark.
And now we move into proggier territory with a track from Enslaved’s latest album.
This wasn’t an easy choice. There’s a good reason why “The River’s Mouth” was a lead single, and I’m very fond of other tracks on E as well, an album that my friend Andy in his review said was “without doubt the band’s most soulful and satisfying release since Axioma… and an irrefutable sign that their journey is far from over.” But “Feathers of Eolh” happens to be not only infectious but also one of the highlights of the album in many other ways, so it wins.
“It’s no great secret that a number of the NCS crew are fans of Extol, myself included.” Andy Synn began his review of Fleshkiller’s new album with that sentence, but I could have written it myself. But wait… this isn’t Extol… it’s Fleshkiller, right?
True enough, but Extol guitarist/songwriter Ole Børud is at the heart of Fleshkiller, and as Andy also wrote, “it’s readily apparent, even after only a single listen, that Fleshkiller is basically Extol 2.0 in all but name”. And that of course is not a bad thing at all. To the contrary.
The album opens with “Parallel Kingdom“, and it’s a fireworks display of an opener, addictive in numerous respects and a showcase for Børud’s ingenious guitar pyrotechnics.
As Wil Cifer wrote in his review of the latest Amenra album, Mass VI: “Any band with a producer who knows how to put them on the bandwagon can achieve certain sounds, but writing songs that you can effortlessly listen to on repeat for an afternoon is a much smaller margin these days.” This album is in that margin.
I was captivated by the entire album, but especially by “A Solitary Reign”, perhaps in part as a result of the striking video that conveyed it to the masses, a video made by Tine Guns, the mother of Amenra guitar player Mathieu Vandekerckhove’s son, Wolf.
The song is perhaps the high point of Mass VI. I’m going to repeat what the band’s Colin H. Van Eeckhout commented about the song:
“The song was written to honor the passing of our drummer, Bjorn Lebon’s mother. Before writing and recording we knew we wanted to honor our mothers on the next album. We wanted to get each one of them in the studio to interview them, ask them about life, love, motherhood, their sons, getting older, death and pain, so we could possibly take some of these words with us, into the next album. We ran out of time, and the only one we were able to interview was, Paulette. Bjorn’s mom.
“She talked about him, about almost losing him, about life’s joy and pain. It was a beautiful moment for all of us. We stowed our plans for later, and little did we know that a month later she got diagnosed with cancer. The strong woman died a few months later.
“Partially written, the song had a prophetic nature. It is the song that brought us together, in that moment, that phone call. We knew time had come to come together, and write that album, that became Mass VI.“
My own mother died almost six years ago. I remain thankful for her every day. I’m thankful for this song, too.
I caught up very late to Spirit Adrift’s Curse of Conception. In fact, I didn’t really pay close attention to it until seeing the words of praise offerd by Joseph Schafer and Wil Cifer in their NCS year-end lists (though I’d seen the album on numerous other year-end lists, too).
Joseph wrote: “Spirit Adrift and Khemmis are now in a heated race to see who can write the US Doom Master of Puppets first”. Wil had good things to say about the vocals, and also wrote: “Filled with twin-guitar harmonies and excellent dynamic shifts that nurture the album’s more melodically introspective tone, often contrasted by foot-on-the-monitor guitar-god grandiosity.”
My interest having been piqued by all the year-end acclaim here and elsewhere, I sought out the album, and now I get it. It’s loaded with well-written, well-performed, emotionally powerful, irresistibly catchy tunes. “To Fly On Broken Wings” grabbed me hardest.
I’m going to close this “clean singing” installment of my list with something I discovered and reviewed myself. What initially drew me to this German band’s debut EP, Lecherous Liturgies, was the knowledge that their line-up includes members of Ophis and Fäulnis, both of whom have put out some fine records in the past. On the other hand, the band’s name made me somewhat leery of what I might hear. I thought the music might be bestial black metal or grind or maybe crust (all of which would have been fine), but worried that it would be some kind of joke. It was none of the above.
The largely mid-paced songs are really well-written, anchored by intensely seductive melodic hooks. They’re also plenty heavy, undergirded by a potent rhythm section (you can almost feel those drum strikes gradually cracking your skull like a car windshield crazing under the blows of baseball-sized hail). Compulsive headbanging is the order the day, except when it’s time to crawl like someone who’s suddenly lost the use of his legs, with an anvil on his back.
Beautiful, heart-aching solos effectively magnify the sorrowing atmosphere of the songs, but it’s also true that the atmosphere of the music has a sinister edge. And still again, it’s also true that the vocalist has a pure voice, quite clean but quite mesmerizing. It won’t be long before you try singing along to the chorus harmonies, wishing you could hit the notes he hits.
You can’t go wrong with either of the tracks on the EP, but by a hair, I like “Erection in the House of God” the best.