With this post I’m beginning the final week of this list, bound and determined to end it by Friday, when the third month of the year begins. With that brutal deadline in mind, I spent hours this past weekend looking at what was left on my gigantic list of nominees for these awards and listening to many of them. The listening was enjoyable, but it was still a harrowing experience — because even though this 2018 list has turned out to be longer than in any previous year, there are still SO MANY SONGS I’d like to recognize, beginning with these three:
Behemoth‘s latest album, I Loved You At Your Darkest, seemed to stir up a hornet’s nest of controversy. Sure, there were plenty of people who lavished it with praise, but a lot of the accolades came from sources that seem to reflexively give every release by every “big name” their highest ratings. The album didn’t evoke quite so much enthusiasm in other quarters, where fans were dismayed by some of the ideas the band tried on for size, and by the more “rock ‘n’ roll” feel of the album as a whole.
As my comrade Andy Synn observed in a collection of immediate impressions after first hearing the album, it does have a less stylistically constrained and more free-flowing approach to song-writing, without abandoning much of what makes Behemoth‘s music so recognizable. I also agree with Andy that although the album wasn’t an unqualified success in every respect, it was still a good album, and home to many songs I genuinely enjoyed, even if I wouldn’t put them on a pedestal with Behemoth‘s greatest works.
One of those songs I enjoyed a lot, to the point of having it stuck in my head in a way that pulled me back to it on a regular basis over the last five months, is the track I’m now adding to this list — “Bartzabel“. Ironically, a big part of its infectiousness for me is the cleanly sung chorus, in which the singers call upon the spirit of the planet Mars in a musical interpretation of an occult ritual that is itself the subject of the video through which the song was first presented. But there are other qualities in the song that are equally infectious, and Nergal’s vocals are viscerally extravagant.
Below you’ll find that video, and the one I’ve embedded is the uncensored version, which is NSFW. I have as much fun watching it as I do listening to the song.
Next I’m turning from one of the biggest names in extreme metal to one that’s much more obscure — the band Volkolun (Волколунь) from Belgorod, Russia. I thoroughly enjoyed their 2018 EP, Path Through The Mist (as I wrote in a review last August). Part of the immediate power of the EP is attributable to the performance of new vocalist Zyx, from the Polish black metal projects Exesa and Zdrada, whose deep, highly serrated growl is absolutely riveting, and capable of expressing tremendous passion. But there is at least equal power in the music created by the solo artist behind Volkolun.
“Zmora” is the song set to play first in the Bandcamp stream, and you will understand why once you hear it. It’s a gloriously fiery track that rushes like a stormfront, and the flickering lead in the song burns with delirious emotional intensity, edged with pain. It gets the pulse racing, though it’s also shaded with gloom. It’s not the only track that got its hooks in my head — “Her Majesty” was a close competitor with “Zmora” in my choice for this list. Really, the entire EP is a wonderful thing to experience from beginning to end, but it’s “Zmora” I finally chose.
Somehow, we fucked up. Somehow, we let the latest album by Sear Bliss (Letters From the Edge) come and go, and never wrote a word about it other than my brief comments about the album’s first single and a quick mention by Andy Synn in his list of 2018’s “Good” albums. Shame on us (and on me). It deserved far more attention than we gave it (and Andy erred, btw, in claiming the album was Good rather than Great). Having failed to give the album a proper review, I’ll borrow instead from Wyatt Marshall‘s write-up explaining why it landed at the No. 9 spot on Stereogum’s list of last year’s 10 best metal albums:
“The tracks that comprise Letters From The Edge are engrossing, and the marrow that binds the album is surreal, planting you in the midst of a wholly envisioned world that’s as magical as it is dark. The signature brass continues to deliver its weight in gold, providing bohemian flair, regal annunciation, and dramatic intonation with remarkable dexterity, its exhales fried at the ends as they dissipate into the atmosphere. The album’s a front-to-back, groove-filled winner….”
It really is a terrific album, but like Mr. Marshall, I found “The Main Divide” to be one of the album’s most exhilarating pinnacles, and for me it was the one that I’ve found most addictive.