(Here are Gonzo’s album recommendations from among those released during November 2021.)
And just like that, November came and went.
While most of us are probably still unpacking the bullshit that 2020 brought, it’s hard to believe that we’re only a month away from 2022. Follow me for more proof that we’re living in a simulation.
Though November was a flash in the pan in the big scheme of things, the music that was released during those 30 days have sent my year-end list plans into a tailspin. Too much good stuff, not enough time to listen to it all.
That said, the stuff I did get around to spending time with was damn good. Four albums in particular have made the cut this month.
KAYO DOT, MOSS GREW ON THE SWORDS AND PLOWSHARES ALIKE
It’s one thing to march to your own beat, but it’s another to consistently reinvent the march itself.
Boston’s Kayo Dot have never been content with simplicity, as their near-20-year back catalog of angular and ambient sounds can attest. Their long march into the off-kilter, the progressive, and the otherwise very weird have seen the band take on some interesting incarnations over the years. 2019’s Blasphemy was among their best and most accessible records, but with Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, the band explores a darker, even heavier side of their aural sampling.
Opening cut “The Knight Errant” dabbles in what I can only describe as progressive ambient sludge. It’s probably not a song you’ll listen to once and think much of – the off-time stop-start of it unfurls slowly, and never really seems to develop into something cohesive. That’s the ongoing plight with bands that describe themselves as “experimental” on their Metal Archives page, though. By the time the song ends and “Brethren of the Cross” begins, you’ll have a better picture of the canvas Kayo Dot have chosen to work with on this album. I’m happy to say it’s a fairly brilliant one.
Deftly changing gears from shimmering Alcest-like passages to post-hardcore ruminations that remind me of the criminally underrated When Icarus Falls, the power trio of Kayo Dot have reached deep into their collective consciousness to craft a record that’s challenging, contemplative, and demanding of multiple listens. You’re unlikely to hear anything that sounds quite like this in 2021.
SUN BELOW, SUN BELOW
While Quebec might be known as the hub for some of the world’s top-tier tech-death, bands across the border in Toronto have been firmly establishing their own identities in more doomy creativity.
Newcomers Sun Below, who just released their eponymous debut full-length, are most definitely on that list. Their brand of bong-ripping doom has enough stickiness to it to stay in your head long after the album ends, like a patch of resin you just can’t seem to scrape off the bottom of your dab rig. With names like “Shiva Sativa,” “Green Visions,” and “Bong Psalm,” yes, you pretty much get the idea of what you’ll be in for here. Their sound would fit in nicely here in the Denver scene alongside the likes of Green Druid, but it’s almost impossible to ignore the monolithic influence that Sleep has on their music as well. That probably goes without saying, but still.
At over 14 minutes long, second track “Holy Drifter” hits the same way “Dopesmoker” does, minus Matt Pike turning into an interdimensional necromancer halfway through. “Doom Stick” and “Solar Burnout” eat up 30 minutes combined, with the first track being an instrumental.
Make no mistake, this is ideal riffage to blaze one up to after a long day. Sun Below takes a familiar formula and weave it into an immensely enjoyable experience.
SWALLOW THE SUN, MOONFLOWERS
Two years ago, I wrote at length about the Finnish doom mainstays’ album When a Shadow is Forced into the Light, ranking it in my top 20 albums of 2019. It was a solid album that showcased Swallow the Sun’s gloomiest, darkest side. While I think it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll ever top their masterful 2015 triple-album opus Songs from the North I, II & III, their newest offering Moonflowers comes pretty fucking close.
As far as timelines go, this dystopian hellscape we’re currently suffering through is rife with songwriting ideas for a band that champions misery and despair as much as STS does. As shitty as the past two years have been for most, the band nails the theme on Moonflowers. No track overstays its welcome, with “Enemy” and “Keep Your Heart Safe from Me” being the most miserable standouts of the eight songs offered here. No doubt, it’s a product of lyricist Juha Raivio having the time to focus his inner despair into some of the most memorable output his band have ever released.
Even in the quieter, more ambient moments on Moonflowers, there’s layers upon layers of brooding atmosphere. The heavier moments pick things up right where they need to be, never forcing in a riff or interlude where it might not belong. It’s that careful attention to detail that makes this melancholy release so damn memorable. Look for “Keep Your Heart Safe from Me” to make an appearance in our “Most Infectious Songs of 2021” at some point.
At last, the wait is over.
Having been suspiciously dormant after 2013’s End of Disclosure, Hypocrisy have returned to the frontlines to deliver an album that, as it turns out, has been worth the wait. Maybe Peter Tagtgren got abducted by aliens or something. Or maybe it was just Pain being the focal point of his creative urges for a while, which is far more likely but way less fun to think about.
But seriously, Worship is a gigantically powerful album that bursts with all the savagery and mayhem that you’d expect from one of the longest-running bands from the Swedish underground. Neck-snapping grooves and ferocious vocal howls are on display like they’ve never been before on Worship. I don’t want to sound like a drooling fanboy or anything here, but it’s almost as if every Hypocrisy album has been a warm-up leading to how massively crushing and wildly enjoyable Worship is.
I got my hopes up pretty high after “Chemical Whore” made an out-of-nowhere appearance in my Spotify Release Radar a couple of months ago, and it fills me with joy to say the rest of the album goes way north of disappointment and into “holy shit” territory.
I knew a lot of metalheads in the ’90s and early 2000s who scoffed at Hypocrisy for having overbalanced production quality, and I always understood that criticism. The guitars were typically blown way out over the rest of the mix, with the vocals sounding messy and blending in too much with everything else. This is decidedly not the case with Worship, as the production quality is hands-down the sharpest and cleanest that Tagtgren & co. have ever put out. Just listen to the absolutely murderous stomp of “Greedy Bastards” and you’ll see what I mean.
Though I’m still tossing around names and positioning, Worship is going to be hard as fuck to leave out of my year-end top 20 list next month.
Speaking of which, I’ll be posting that very list towards the end of December instead of my usual monthly roundup. It’s honestly my favorite time of year around NCS. Lists aren’t everyone’s thing, to be sure, but I love reading what other people have been jamming out to while I’ve been yelling about the stuff I can’t stop listening to.
As always, if you want to hear some of the aforementioned stuff I can’t stop listening to, including songs from Worship and more, give my best-of 2021 playlist a listen: