For today’s installment of this 2018 list I’m taking a turn toward black metal, of unusually high quality. And I’ll give you a preview that black metal will be the focus of tomorrow’s post as well. As the writer of our site’s Sunday SHADES OF BLACK column, I have a vast number of black metal tracks on my collection of candidates for this list, and while I’m committed to making it representative of addicting music across a range of genres, that particular genre is going to get its fair share of attention in the weeks ahead.
When I first listened to Funeral Mist’s new album Hekatomb I wasted no time in putting pen to paper (so to speak). Avoiding any attempt to compare it to the enthusiastically received Salvation or the more controversial Maranatha, I considered it on its own and wrote (here):
“I think anyone who has rushed to characterize the album as some kind of standard black metal or a mere Marduk clone maybe hasn’t listened carefully enough. The boiling exuberance and unexpected creative twists revealed in the first track don’t end there, nor do the music’s physically compulsive elements or its dramatic vocal variations. The songs come at you with knives drawn, teeth bared, and torches held high, drums blasting and riffs writhing, but they also spin the mind upward and out as if caught in a cyclone of flame, or in the throes of mystical hallucinations, and the strange, small touches that add further textures to some of the songs (such as the pinging tones in “Cockatrice” and the strident vocal proclamations in “Pallor Mortis”) do more than shove the listener a bit off-balance. “Cockatrice”, by the way, is my early favorite among the 8 tracks”.
I wasn’t the only scribbler at our site who felt compelled to express an opinion. My colleague Mr. Synn wrote (here):
“[Hekatomb] succeeds not just through its sheer savagery – although that is a major point in its favour – but because of the multitude of unexpected twists and clever arrangements concealed within its forty-three minutes…. [N]o matter how heavy, how aggressive, how groovy, or how brooding, these songs are, none of them are just one thing, and the whole album presents a version of the Black Metal template which is just as creatively vibrant and vital as it is undeniably vicious and visceral”.
I concluded very quickly that I would need to pick a track from the album for this list, the only challenging question being, which one? After listening again and musing a bit, I concluded that my early favorite had remained my favorite… and that seemed good proof of its infectious qualities. And so “Cockatrice” goes on the list:
Shamefully, we failed to review the new album by the Ukrainian band 1914, not because The Blind Leading the Blind was beneath our attention and certainly not because we couldn’t muster good things to say about it — because it’s exceptionally good — but only because the torrent of excellent new releases last year simply overwhelmed our capacity to cover every deserving release.
That new album was released on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018 — the 100th Anniversary of the End of Great War. As before, 1914 took their themes from the terrible conflict of World War I. What I wrote about the band’s debut album, Eschatology of War, still rings true of this newest release — because 1914 experienced no “sophomore slump”:
“It vividly captures the devastation and heartache of a conflict that destroyed a generation, while delivering some of the most pulverizing and dynamic metal you’re likely to hear this year. A truly fascinating and emotionally staggering musical journey, inventively imagined, ingeniously written, and expertly performed.”
The album is loaded with memorable tracks, and as in the case of Funeral Mist‘s latest record I struggled to pick just one for this list, but finally settled on “Arrival: The Meuse-Argonne“. Its title refers to a major part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front, and in the case of my own country alone involved 1.2 million American soldiers (it was the deadliest battle in U.S. history).
Dramatic subject matter, to be sure, and the song itself is dramatic — and dark, and intensely moving, as befits the subject matter. It harnesses blackened death metal, black metal, and doom in a riveting musical portrayal that lingers in the mind. I won’t blame you if you favor other tracks as the more infectious — it’s just that kind of album — but this one narrowly edged out others for me.