As predicted at the end of yesterday’s penultimate segment of this list, I spent hours agonizing about what to include in this final Part. And in the end, despite the internal misery occasioned by having to make a final choice among so many strong remaining candidates, it’s still a largely random outcome — even though this final episode includes a LOT more songs than usual. Basically, I went with my gut, slightly aided by my brain, which thought this sequence of tracks might be a fitting conclusion. At a minimum, it’s more directly in line with the title of this list than yesterday’s choices.
The first three songs are guitar spectacles, the fourth and fifth ones keep the savage energy in the red zone in different ways, the sixth moves into malevolent brutishness (with serious risk of sore-neck syndrome), and then we shift gears into downright epic territory with the last two stirring and marvelously multi-faceted songs, which seemed the right way, in farewell, to express how glorious metal was in 2019.
I first stumbled across the Swiss band Matterhorn in the spring of 2018 when they had two songs up for streaming in advance of Iron Bonehead‘s CD release of their debut album, Crass Cleansing, and I came away very impressed. I had a tough time categorizing the music, describing it then as a stew of extremity that included elements of thrash, speed metal, punk, black metal, and death metal — and the overall impact was electrifying.
Last fall Redefining Darkness Records and Dying Victim Production reissued Crass Cleansing on CD and vinyl, with two new bonus tracks (recorded live) as a sign of what the band have been working on for their second album. We premiered one of those two new tracks, “Clarity”, and I’ve always intended to find a place for it on this list.
When we presented the song I labeled it “fucking genius”. It’s massively head-moving, with big ringing and blaring riffs over a heavyweight rhythmic drive that will double you over at the waist. The distinctive vocals are raw, feral, and fiendish — as are the freakish arpeggios and the unexpected changes in rhythm, which include bursts of battering mayhem. The melodies shift from almost ecstatically fiery to frantic and deranged, and bruising and bleak, but the band repeatedly return to that mammoth opening riff, which is enormously charismatic and grows increasingly so with each reappearance.
The adrenaline-fueled energy of the song does fall off a cliff about two-thirds of the way through the song, and the music drags, moans, and yowls like the final labored breaths of a massive dying beast. It’s an oppressive interlude, but Matterhorn kick the music into driving gear again, with another display of raucous, rollicking, and mesmerizing extravagance.
Two years ago I included a song (“Bastard of Hades“) from Hellripper’s surprising debut album Coagulating Darkness on the 2017 edition of this list. Last year Hellripper followed that album with an EP named Black Arts & Alchemy, and astonishingly we failed to breathe a word about it at NCS. I have no explanation for why I didn’t get around to ejecting a torrent of frothy verbiage about it. I guess I was too preoccupied ejecting frothy verbiage about something else. But now I’ll try to make amends.
“All Hail the Goat” is the track that opens that hellraising EP, and it proves again what a precocious riffmeister James McBain is. Not yet 25 years old, this Scottish musician churns out electrifying thrash riffs and howls like a rabid werewolf, and then switches into a different and more crazed darting riff, followed by a glorious, swirling and soaring solo that gives the song an incendiary crescendo. The drum rhythms in the song are well-tuned to amplify the pulse-punching effect of the guitar work, and the combined effect of everything is to make me want to run around like a crazy person and bounce myself off the walls. Which of course would put me in the hospital, so I’ll just have to cavort within my cranium. You go right ahead and do the same….
This next selection keeps the speed and intensity of this Part way up in the broiling red zone. “Birth of a Mountain” comes from The Spearwound Salvation, which is the 2019 debut album by the Swedish black metal trio Ultra Silvam (from Malmö). At the time I featured the song in a SEEN AND HEARD round-up almost exactly one year ago, I wrote:
“You know how mountains are born, right? Mainly through the crashing together of tectonic plates, and by vulcanism. The processes at work in this new single sound much more like the latter process. It’s a superheated eruption of molten fury and boiling chaos. But as fiercely as the song rips — and the maniacal drumming, freakishly blistering leads, and unhinged vocals really do rip — it’s the magnetic riffing, remarkable soloing, and head-hooking melodies that really make the song stand out. It’s like an incandescent amalgam of throat-slitting black metal savagery, arena-ready rock, and “classic” heavy metal, with a clarity of sound that’s fitting”.
A year later, and it still hasn’t lost its absolutely scorching, adrenaline-fueling impact.
MAN MUST DIE
Like the Matterhorn track at the opening of this Part, it was essentially a foregone conclusion that I’d include something from Man Must Die‘s latest release on this list. Gagging Order was met with a uniformly jubilant response by all the members of our core cadre of writers. Andy Synn beat the rest of us to the punch with his review, although DGR got in his own two cents’ worth when he put this new EP at the No. 20 spot on his year-end list:
“Man Must Die continue on their hot-streak of razor-sharp guitar lines and pummeling drumming being the method by which they get by, with vocalist Joe McGlynn more than happy to yell at you about the world over the top of it. The songs remain surprisingly intricate for the sort of violence they commit as Man Must Die play with a variety of different song structures on Gagging Order…. Crossing our fingers that the gap between this one and the next release is a whole lot shorter than the last gap, because Man Must Die are one of those bands that the world needs to exist — even if they don’t know it yet.”
There might be a bit of disagreement between Andy and DGR about which song best belongs on this list. Andy seemed to think that “Silent Authority” and “Slave to the Animal” made the strongest impression, while DGR recommended the title track. In part because those first two songs had made their way to the internet years earlier, I’m going with “Gagging Order“, but also because as jet-fueled and as savage as the song is, and as packed it is with instrumental mayhem and razor-sharp rhythm and tempo changes, it’s highly addictive, and the guitar solo in the middle plays a significant role in that. So does the burst of jackhammering brutality which follows, as well as the insectile fretwork jitteriness which follows that, and the … oh hell, just listen to this:
I was unfamiliar with Gorgon — the French black metal band, not the French symphonic death metal band — until Neill Jameson named 2019’s The Veil of Darkness as his album of the year on his YE list for NCS. But if Neill Jameson is going to name something his album of the year, and to write that it was “an easy decision”, I’m damned sure going to make time for it. That turned out to be time very well spent.
I’ll quote here what Neill had to say about the album:
“I’ve written about Gorgon for this site before [here] but at the time I had no inkling that Osmose would make the smartest decision they’ve made in years by reissuing the long-out-of-print recordings of this great band nor that a new album would be appearing anytime soon.
“Like Beherit with Engram, Gorgon have not only made a great comeback record but also the best record of their very long career. From start to finish this record is constant in its momentum and energy, a punk-fueled black metal attack. The genuine article from arguably France’s oldest and definitely it’s most under-appreciated act is dripping with the kind of integrity and focus one only achieves through decades of dedication. Album of 2019 for me.”
To put those quotes in context, The Veil of Darkness arrived almost 20 years after Gorgon’s last album, and although I missed everything that preceded it, this new one was a big eye-opener — mainly because the riffs (which turn out to be stylistically diverse) are catchy as hell, and the fiery spirit is unmistakable.
Even now, I really am not sure which of the tracks deserve to be anointed as “most infectious”, because they’re all really addictive, but I felt like “Still six six six” was the right choice because the title kind of says it all about Gorgon’s comeback.
I’m diving deeper into the underground with this next track, because we do pride ourselves on deep-diving around here. But we also premiered and reviewed the EP that was home to the song, which is how I discovered it — and quickly became wedded to it.
That EP, Marquis of Evil, is the fourth release of the monstrous Hungarian death metal band Tyrant Goatgaldrakona in a career that now exceeds 10 years. It only includes two tracks, but both of them are ruinous neck-wreckers, and highly addictive too. It’s unfortunate that Tyrant Goatgaldrakona aren’t more prolific, because they’re so good at the ghastly business they’ve chosen, but beggars can’t be choosers.
To crib from what I wrote about “Conspiracy With Marquis” at the time of our premiere:
“At first, it’s a bestial assault of thundering drums and writhing, roiling guitar abrasion, which provide a ferocious, warlike backdrop to deep, ugly (and yes, tyrannical) gutturals. It’s an electrifying (and terrorizing) start, but one that’s just softening you up for the serious neck strain to come.
“The band shift into a methodically jolting and brutishly heavy sequence at about the 1:10 mark, and they stay with that primitive, crushing assault long enough to take command of your head. They integrate further displays of frenzied, boiling, fretwork savagery into that hammer-fest, along with some freakish soloing, but repeatedly come back to it, determined to drive you as deep into the ground as they can”.
Now I’m going to dramatically shift gears from what has come before in this final Part of the list, and turn to a song that damn near broke my heart when I first heard it, and continues to have that effect every time I hear it. Its emotional power is so penetrating and profound that I’ve had to ration how many times I come back to it, but I always do eventually return.
That song, “Sequestered Sympathy“, is the stunning title track to the debut album by Exulansis, whose members are divided between Oregon and Oakland. To again crib from what I wrote in an earlier feature about the album:
“The sorrow conveyed by the title track is unmistakable, and immediate. The slow, soft, haunting reverberations of the guitar and bass at the outset are grief-stricken by themselves, but the music really spears the heart deeply as soon as the soulful weeping of Andrea Morgan‘s violin joins in. That sequence is absolutely beautiful, and could have gone on for minutes longer as far as I’m concerned, but what follows it proves to be even more powerfully wrenching.
“The music becomes crushing, though that lonesome melody persists and evolves in searing fashion. The vocals also amplify the song’s emotional intensity by combining deep roars, cauterizing shrieks, and singing that soars. You fall into the music like drifting down through deep, dark waters, but can see the glimmering light shining above. It’s spellbinding, and the spell persists even when the drumming erupts in a pummeling gallop and the rest of the instruments join together in a spectacular, heavenly crescendo. The grandeur in that sound is vast, the splendor in the music simply stunning — and the finale is wild and joyous.
“And so — surprise, surprise — the song becomes heart-swelling as well as heart-breaking.”
Up above, in the introduction to this Part, I also referred to this song as “epic”, and it is — as well as tremendously memorable.
To end this Part, and the list as a whole, I decided to go with “Thunderous“, the magnificent opening song from True North, the latest full-length by that gem of a Norwegian band, Borknagar. It’s one of the longest songs on this list, and is indeed an “epic” journey.
We never gave the album a proper review last year, but the one at Angry Metal Guy has a good description of this track, which I’m going to steal:
“’Thunderous’ is exactly what its name suggests. This thing is fucking massive in every way known to the band. With an eight-and-a-half-minute runtime, the opener explores everything from the darkest caverns to the tallest treetops, the warmest valleys to the coldest mountaintops, and the ocean floor to the outer exosphere. Which, as it turns out, also describes most of the album. Combining blackened rasps with Vortex’s unmistakable cleans, ‘Thunderous’ transitions from an aggressive front-half to an emotion-filled back-half. The transition to clean guitars and standout bass work is so abrupt, it feels like a different song. But the gorgeous instrumentation and captivating vocals envelop the whole of the song and wrap it up in the perfect conclusion”.
I couldn’t find an official stream of the track to embed below, and the unofficial one I did find has the lyrics on the screen, but that’s not a bad thing.
And so there you have it, the end of this list. Tomorrow I’ll wrap things up by listing all the songs in the order presented, with links to all the streams.