I missed two weekdays in the rollout of this list, and I want to make up for that, so that’s the justification for breaking my promise to finish this list by the end of January. I have this installment today, and I’ll have another one tomorrow, and then on Monday I’ll tie things up with a black bow by listing all the songs from start to finish. Of course I won’t really be finished, because a ton of deserving songs will have been omitted. I will just have forced myself to stop.
Today’s four songs are all well-deserved exceptions to our porous rule about singing. The musical styles of the songs are all different from each other. All together, they make for an enthralling (and infectious) playlist.
Wil Cifer reviewed GastiR – Ghosts Invited for us, and concluded with this paragraph: “This is one of the few albums this year that I have been able to just leave on a let-play all day, on endless repeat, and not get bored with it. If you do not need your black metal to live on blast alone and prefer the feel of darkness, then this is more than worth your time”.
I don’t have the luxury of leaving any album on endless repeat all day, since my self-imposed NCS duties cause me to constantly flit from thing to thing like a hummingbird on fire. But I have no doubt it would be very easy to do that with this debut album by Gaahls Wyrd, if I could only calm down long enough. As Wil noted in his review, the pacing of the album is well-balanced and the experience is one that’s richly multi-faceted and immersive — and yes, you can feel the darkness.
There are some raging moments on the album that recall Gorgoroth, but the song that’s had the most lasting impact on me is “Carving the Voices“. I’ll repeat what I wrote when I heard it the first time:
“The timbre of Gaahl‘s voice dominates the opening…. Like a prophet who might actually be clairvoyant or an ancient enchanter who has just emerged from a centuries-long imprisonment within a gnarled oak, the deep resonance of his voice conveys the possession of wisdom both profound and full of dread.
“As the song slowly builds, Gaahl‘s deep gothic tones build and transform as well, revealing the extent of his impressive range and his ability to channel a range of emotions. Meanwhile, the backing music also changes. Immediately, it creates a mood of tension, and a feeling of anguish. As time passes, two things happen — the music becomes more feverish, more distraught, more perilous, and yet more haunting; and it buries itself in the mind (in other words, it’s very memorable). The accompanying video is also beautiful, and otherworldly”.
SWALLOW THE SUN
I don’t think “Firelights” is the best song on Swallow the Sun‘s latest album, When a Shadow is Forced Into the Light, which DGR reviewed at length here. The best one is probably a choice between “Crimson Crown” and “Stone Wings”, or maybe the heartbreaking but slightly hopeful “Never Left”. But “Firelights“, at least for me, has proven to be the most infectious. That might not be the best word for a song that’s so directly tied (as is the album as a whole) to Juha Raivio’s working his way through the grief caused by the death of his partner Aleah Stanbridge. Maybe “unforgettable” is a better word for it.
It’s a beautiful and even hypnotic song, though the band’s trademark weighty somberness is still quite evident. Vicious snarls, seething riffs, and anguished leads eventually surface, bookended by mystical chiming melody and the magnificent vocal expressions of Mikko Kotamäki.
As I was nearing the calendar-end of this list I asked my friend Andy Synn for his suggestions. He usually keeps his own counsel about what should or shouldn’t be on this list, but he relented and made a few suggestions, all of which were of the “clean singing” variety, and the next two songs in this installment of the list were among them.
It didn’t surprise me that Andy would recommend something from Arctic Sleep‘s 2019 album, Kindred Spirits. He did, after all, sum it up as “unmissable, unforgettable” — “a spellbinding array of moody, progressive riffs, effortlessly evocative melodies, and gorgeously harmonised, utterly heartfelt, vocals which, collectively, combine to form one of the richest and most rewarding musical experiences of the year”.
Of course I’ve made clear that this list is my own, rather some kind of consensus selection among all the NCS writers, and so I reserved the right to pass my own judgment on Andy’s suggestion of “Eternal Sunbeam“. But man, it really is a completely enthralling song — and so I’m happily including it.
One of Andy’s other suggestions was a song bythe French band Klone, whom I discovered waaay back in the summer of 2010 and wrote about in an episode of a column that fell by the wayside as the years passed, one called “Eye-Catchers”, in which I chose music to review based solely on the cover art of the records.
That particular Klone album, Black Days, made such a favorable impression that I continued to follow the band, and to write about their music, in subsequent years. I even included a song from their next album, The Dreamer’s Hideaway, on the 2012 edition of this list. But at some point, years ago, Klone kind of fell off my radar screen, maybe because my own tastes had tunneled further and further into more extreme bands of the metal spectrum, while Klone were moving in different directions.
Andy’s review of Klone’s newest album, Le Grand Voyage, succeeded in putting them back on my radar screen. It felt like welcoming a long-lost friend, though one whose appearance had changed since last encountering them. Klone have moved on from the days of Black Days, more toward prog and further away from metal, though as Andy noted in his review, they did judiciously choose on the new album to “deploy a touch of brooding distortion to add just the right amount of extra weight to their material”.
But it’s not conventional “heaviness” that makes Le Grand Voyage so appealing. As demonstrated on “Breach“, the song Andy suggested for this list and that I’ve whole-heartedly embraced, the attraction instead comes from the mood and atmosphere of the music, from the mesmerizing instrumental textures and intriguing rhythms, and from Yann Ligner‘s wonderful voice.
So that’s it for today’s segment of this list. As mentioned at the outset, I’ll have the concluding segment tomorrow — though I honestly have no fucking idea which songs will be included. The easiest course would be to take the 400 or so songs remaining on my list of candidates, throw them into a hat, and pick a few at random. Instead, I’ll probably agonize for a few hours today and then make an almost equally random but more painful selection. Help!!!