CLEAN SINGING ALERT!
This past week I missed two days in the rollout of this list, for reasons explained when I was able to resume it. I also mentioned that I might try to catch up this weekend, et voila!
As the alert warns you, or maybe entices you, all three of today’s selections involve singing, and thus run counter to the rule in our site’s title. But as regular NCS visitors know, that’s never been an iron-clad rule. We have always made exceptions where exceptions are well-earned, and they are in the case of these songs. Plus, I found these songs highly infectious, so much so that I could not in good conscience omit from this list. (And these won’t be the last partially or wholly clean-sung songs to make the list.)
Reunions and come-backs are a whole lot more miss than hit, but holy shit, have Cirith Ungol been hitting it out of the park since they came back together after almost 20 years of inactivity. Along with some great live shows, their 2018 single “Witch’s Game” was a sign that the band still had it. And last year brought further proof with the release of Forever Black, their first studio album since 1991’s Paradise Lost.
I picked the name of this site, and only did it in half-joking fashion, but the part of me that was half-serious about it still gets won over by Tim Baker‘s vocals on the new album, perhaps because they have such a razor’s edge in them. And everything else about the songs on Forever Black seduced me too (and I promise you that I’m not easily seduced by bands whose style is in the orbit of Cirith Ungol‘s). Having said that, it was a pretty easy call for me to pick “Stormbringer” out of the track list to take a place here.
It merits that over-used term “epic”, especially with its dramatic opening, the solo that soon follows, and the intensity that burns through Baker’s voice soon after that. The soloing remains wonderful throughout the track, as does the shattering intensity of Baker’s vocals, and there’s a lot of darkness in the song as well, which may be one reason I like it so much.
My friend DGR penned one of his typically lengthy reviews (here) for this Montreal band’s 2020 album Al Qassam, and that’s what induced me to pay closer attention to it. I’ll share a few excerpts from that review:
“At times Aeternam are happy to descend into a tech-death maelstrom but for the most part. when they’re not using a variety of unexpected instrumentation, multi-faceted vocal work, and various folk melodies to add atmosphere, they’re smashing out some punishingly heavy stuff that allows the rhythm section to pummel the ground to absolute nothingness….
“Aeternam have on their hands one of the most expansive and fully fleshed-out releases so far this year. A lot of bands aim to have as many elements as possible within their music and some even play in a very similar realm as Aeternam do here, but very few are able to tie it all together as well as they do on Al Qassam.”
Five different songs showed up on my list of candidates for these awards, after I had combined my own list with readers’ lists and DGR’s own recommendations. DGR’s choice was “Ascension“, and that’s the one I’ve gone with. “Lunar Ceremony” was the second strongest tempter, and it involves a lot more singing than “Ascension“, as well as a music video that’s worth a look (here).
For those who’ve still not run across Eternal Champion despite the significant number of year-end lists on which they appeared, they’re an epic heavy metal band from Austin, Texas, named after a character premise in Michael Moorcock’s fictional universe and featuring Iron Age vocalist (Jason Tarpey), Power Trip’s lead guitarist Blake Ibanez, and three other talented dudes who also play together in Sumerlands and War Hungry. Their 2020 album Ravening Iron was reviewed for us by Gonzo, and his write-up included these words of praise:
“Ravening Iron is a goddamn powerhouse of an album. From the moment you hear the opening of the audial razor blade that is “A Face in the Glare,” it practically erupts with the kind of old-school energy that harkens back to power metal’s glory days. The dueling guitars of Blake Ibanez and John Powers radiate with a stampeding force that rivals some of the best metal I’ve heard all year. And in a year where I’ve sat around and listened to more music than I have since I was a pimple-faced teenager avoiding his homework, that’s some praise I haven’t dished out in a while.”
He also pointedly recommended one particular song for this list:
“Moving on, “Skullseeker” deserves to be included in our annual “Most Infectious Songs” list. If you’re not pumping your fist and nodding your head along to it, check your pulse. The songwriting on this track leaves not a moment going to waste. Seemingly every second of it is captivating, exhilarating, and – I know I’ve said this before in what seems like everything I write lately – makes me miss the living shit out of live shows. An Eternal Champion set at this point would probably send me to the hospital with a sore neck.”
Gonzo wasn’t the only one who urged me to listen to “Skullseeker” when I was dragging my feet on paying attention to this album. And so I did. And that’s all it took to send me into the rest of the record. And sure enough, here it is on this list: