(Andy Synn officially begins “List Week” with a round up of the year’s most “Disappointing” releases)
As has become my custom I’m kicking off List Week with what is always the most controversial entry, my list of the most “disappointing” albums of the year.
Now, to be clear, this article isn’t about just attacking bands you don’t like. So if you’re coming here to performatively shit on someone else’s work just to make yourself look big and clever… jog on.
No, the point is simply to acknowledge that the artists we love sometimes let us down – whether that’s because they simply fail to live up to their own potential, or because their latest release is more hype than substance – and to give readers a place to communicate, and commiserate, and come to terms with the fact that even our favourite bands aren’t perfect.
ALTARAGE – SUCCUMB
This one hurts, I won’t lie to you.
I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Altarage army for a long time now – pretty much since the beginning, if memory serves – and consider their first three albums to be about as perfect a trilogy of titanic Black/Death terror as it’s possible for any artist to create.
But Succumb simply isn’t on the same level.
Make no mistake about it, I get what the band were trying to do with some of the glitchy effects, jarring song-structures, and even the ambitiously atmospheric final track, and I can see why – after three albums of pitch-black perfection – they would have wanted to really shake things up.
It’s just that these attempts to experiment don’t really work in the way they should do, resulting in an album that often sounds disjointed and aimless (especially during those last twenty-one minutes) when it’s clearly aiming to be challenging and compelling.
There’s still a lot to love here (the devastating mid-album triptych of “Foregone”, “Drainage Mechanism” and “Watcher Witness”, for example, demonstrates just how powerful and unsettling the band’s music can be when given sufficient room to breathe and brood) but, disappointingly, not enough to carry the entire record.
AT THE GATES – THE NIGHTMARE OF BEING
Now, let me be clear about one thing – there is absolutely nothing wrong with bands growing older and changing their style, just as there’s nothing wrong with bands sticking to their guns and refusing to change what they do… as long as they’re still putting out the good stuff, obviously.
Heck, if you stick around until tomorrow and read my “Good” list, you’ll find there’s a whole section dedicated to bands growing old (dis)gracefully and demonstrating that they’ve still got “it”, even if they’re not necessarily producing the best work of their career.
Sadly, however, At the Gates aren’t one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I was as excited as anyone when the Swedes first announced their return, and still think that At War… is a fantastic, and somewhat underrated, album. But, unfortunately, the band have largely failed to maintain the creative momentum generated by their comeback and on The Nightmare of Being honestly sound more than a little bit tired and unsure of themselves.
That being said, it’s clear that they know they can’t just rely on repeating the same old tricks forever – although, arguably, the most enjoyable parts of this album are when they settle into “classic” AtG mode – but it also seems like they don’t know quite where they want to go next, to the point where even the much-vaunted “experimentation” we were promised really just ends up being a box-ticking exercise of ideas (yes, we get it, using saxophone makes you “progressive”) that have already been done to death by other bands.
I don’t hate this album (I don’t hate any of the albums featured here, to be clear). But it’s not only far from the band’s best work, it actually has me concerned for their future… again.
BOSSK – MIGRATION
This is a painful entry for me to write too. Not only because I’ve been a fan of the band ever since I stumbled across their debut in my local record store (remember those?) but because, by the time you read this I’ll have spent the previous evening seeing the band live where I predict they’ll put on a damn good show, as always (edit: yes, they did).
However, I know from personal experience that I’m not the only one feeling let down by this album, which certainly has its moments (closer “Unberth” is almost worth the price of admission on its own), but ultimately feels a little unfinished and insubstantial when all is said and done, as if the band were still waiting on something (or someone) else to come along and add the missing final pieces to the puzzle.
Of course, that doesn’t meant there aren’t some enjoyable parts to this album, but I think, if you’re willing to be totally honest with yourselves, you’ll agree that it simply lacks that special touch which would turn it into more than just the sum of these scattered and uneven parts.
DREAM UNENDING – TIDE TURNS ETERNAL
I have no doubt that this one is likely to be the most controversial entry on this list – yep, even more than At the Gates – considering the ridiculous level of hype which preceded its release (much of it without anyone having heard a single note of music) and the pedigree of the two musicians involved.
But this seems like a perfect example of what happens when people are too afraid to admit that the emperor has no clothes – no-one wants to be the first to say it, so no-one does, and everyone just goes along with it, repeating the same predictable platitudes ad nauseum.
So, let me be the first to say it… Tide Turns Eternal is just “ok”. It’s certainly not a paradigm shift or the start of some new sub-genre spin-off (“Dream-Doom” my foot), and I can only imagine that the people out there pushing this idea so aggressively are either not really familiar with Doom as a genre, or have bought into the hype so much that they now feel like they need to double down in order to save face.
I don’t disagree that there’s some pleasantly “dreamy” ambient parts here and there (though the title track is the only one which really makes good use of them), and I’d say that the final song shows some real promise, but this is a record full of unmemorable riffs and underwhelming vocals that, at best, equal some pretty generic Peaceville-era Doom worship with a mildly proggy edge.
PUTRESCINE – THE FADING FLAME
This one is probably going to upset people too, although I’m really not trying to.
After all, I like Putrescine (hell, I like pretty much every band in this list, to a greater or lesser extent), and thought that their 2019 EP, The One Reborn was great (I can’t remember who introduced me to it/them, but need to say thank you).
It’s just that their debut album is, to coin a cliché, “half killer, half filler”, something which I alluded to in my own review when I wrote:
“…although there’s definitely enough good material on The Fading Flame to construct another pretty kickass EP – “Devourer of Gods”, for example, is an absolute monster, and the title-track is one seriously twisted piece of tortured technicality – as an album it’s much more uneven, its forward-momentum too often hamstrung by a combination of directionless dissonance and generic chuggery…”
And, to be painfully honest, I feel even more strongly about this now, after several more months sitting with the album and letting my thoughts percolate.
WHITECHAPEL – KIN
So… let’s get one thing straight… this record is not here because of its abundance of clean vocals.
Despite the site’s (very) tongue-in-cheek name we actually have a great appreciation for singers with the sort of talent which Phil Bozeman demonstrates throughout this album, and there’s absolutely no denying how honest and heartfelt his lyrics and his performance are.
It’s just that Kin is a perfect example of how talent alone isn’t enough… especially when what you’re writing is, essentially, a mid-tier middle-of-the-road mid-2000s-era Metalcore album in all but name.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a “bad” album. But it is a formulaic one (yes, track #4 is a ballad, yes, about half the songs have an unnecessary clean/acoustic intro, and… yes… most of them go with the predictable “harsh verses, clean choruses” formula), one which you’ve likely heard a thousand times before, even if you haven’t heard Whitechapel doing it.
Of course, the fact that this album has been made so many times before – coupled with the obvious excellent musicianship of the band as a whole – means it will likely be very successful (we know that this sort of thing sells, after all).
But – barring the occasional stand-out track – it really feels like the band have sacrificed what once made them special (or, at least, distinct) in favour of a much more run-of-the-mill sound.
WORMWITCH – WOLF HEX
The explanation for why this one is here is actually pretty simple.
I liked the band’s debut, Strike Mortal Soil, a lot. And I loved Heaven That Dwells Within.
But Wolf Hex just doesn’t have the same sort of teeth, the same level of energy, and feels like a much more bland and boring – a much more “safe” – version of the band I/we used to love.
Weirdly, I think you can sum up the problems with this record (which does have a few killer cuts, don’t get me wrong) by taking a listen to the bonus track, a completely by-the-numbers cover of Metallica’s “Hit The Lights”, which the band play as safe as possible and don’t even seem to try to stamp any of their own identity on it (honestly, it could be anyone covering it).
And that’s the problem with Wolf Hex – barring a few exceptions it just doesn’t have any real identity (and is largely lacking in intensity too) and mostly just goes in one ear and out the other.
Well, there you have it.
If you’ve read this far – and haven’t just skipped down to the comments to chastise me for my stupidity – thank you for doing so.
Feel free to express your own disappointment(s), either with things you’ve heard this year or with what you’ve just read, below… just try and keep it polite and/or constructive (or else!).
And stay tuned tomorrow for my extensive round-up of all the “Good” albums I was lucky enough to experience this year!
YES! And so it begins… Andy, your multi-day end of year lists (which i know started on Friday) have become like my own personal metal menorah!
I will repeat myself again here, but I will never know how you and DGR (although talk about the alpha and the omega of lists) do this each year – I honestly couldn’t begin to make sense of the last year…until after i have gone through your all’s detailed and thoroughly documented, end of year recaps. Truly remarkable – if, wallet lightening – work. And, fwiw, the above just made me want to go back and listen to some Altarage and (classic) At the Gates – so, as they say, sometimes there is no such thing as bad publicity…. Looking forward to the progression throughout the week!
Ha, well they are meant to provide a service. It’s always nice to know that they’re appreciated!
Oof, two of those hurt. I had a tremendous amount of fun with Putrescine, but admittedly, part of that might be because I’m a huge Dark Souls nerd. And I’ll stand by my love for Succumb. Definitely a divisive record and I understand why, but it’s the kind of messy, unsettling chaos I revel in.
If it helps, I also love messy, unsettling chaos… just not *this* particular album of messy, unsettling chaos.
And, trust me, it hurt more writing them than it does reading them!
Absolutely agree with Wolf Hex, which is a damn shame as HTDW got and still gets heavy rotation from me.
Same for me. In fact I might give it another listen this evening.
100% agree, I was excited that Wormwitch was coming out with a new album and was very disappointed with Wolf Hex. It’s mediocre at best.
Many would disagree but I’d put the new Phrenelith album in the disappointing category as well.
Ooh… say more now!
(Seriously, I am legitimately interested in your take on this one)
Well, first I’ll say that I don’t think it’s bad. I just liked Desolate Endscape a lot more and my expectations may have been unfairly high. But, considering that I hold their last full length in such high regard, it was hard not to get my expectations up.
My biggest gripe with Chimaera is that literally half the songs on the album are recycled/re-recorded songs from their Chimaerian Offspring EP from 2017. This doesn’t seem to bother most people but after a 4 1/2 year gap between albums I was really hoping for, and would’ve preferred, a full new album of actual new material. After the first track ends I feel like I’ve already heard more than half the album. So I guess if anything the album just leaves me yearning for more and underwhelmed, especially considering that it’s only 31 minutes long. If there 2-3 more new tracks and around 40 minutes in length, that would be a different story.
On top of that the album overall feels a lot less aggressive and punchy than Desolate Endscape. In fact, Chimaera might be one of the least aggressive death metal albums I’ve ever heard. Take for example, the song “Deluge of Ashes”, from DE. That song hits like a 10 ton brick shithouse. That opening is SUPER punchy and just comically heavy. I didn’t feel there were any moments on Chimaera that really slapped like that, while DE had plenty of them. They seemed to dial back the aggression in favor of more atmosphere. Which is fine, not a bad thing necessarily, just not what I was expecting or hoping for from Phrenelith.
100% this. And also, two of the four new songs are an interlude and and practice room sounding near-instrumental. So that leaves us with just two actual songs, both of which sound more like a myriad of Finnish death/doom than Phrenelith.
Lazy and disappointing.
IMHO the biggest disappointments of the year were:
The new version of Absu, Proscriptor McGovern’s Apsû.
Hermitage by Moonspell
Hushed and Grim by Mastodon
and the king of disappointment was The Work by Rivers of Nihil…. I tried like ten times but I was unable to understad a shit of what was happening on that record….
I have to ask…what exactly did you find dissapointing whith the new Apsu?????
What did you expect?
Well mate, I was expecting something massive, creative and dynamic with the drumming work and maybe, some killer riffs considering the addition to the line-up of the guitarist of Possessed… What I’ve found was a less incisive & stylistically less congruous work, like a repetition of the “Absu” album.
My biggest anticipation killer was Ars Moriendi. Really enjoyed le solitude but le silence has not clicked at all. Meh.
I know I wrote this as part of my year end list, but my biggest disappointment this year is Obscura. Of course, the talent is all there and Christian Münzner is awesome, but that melo-death style that they chose for this album is really not my cup of tea.
Nightmare was, at the very least, better than To Drink From…. id rather here ATG attempt something new than hear them fail at doing what theyve always done
Damn I bought into the hype surrounding Dream Unending but couldn’t understand why it wasn’t clicking for me. Thank you for your bravery Andy!
The latest Chrome Waves was a major disappointment IMO.
See, first you get on my good side… and then you have to go and say something like that!
Also… bravery, or stupidity? I know some folks would definitely contend the latter.
Well if it shows up on one of your later lists no doubt I’ll feel compelled to revisit!
Can see why Wormwitch appear here, I couldn’t get into that LP either and loved HTDW.
Year of No Light ‘Consolamentum’ for me, some highlights but a lot of it just passes me by.
I was also disappointed by the production on the otherwise excellent ‘Triade I’ by Aara. Great songwriting and lead guitar work but the mix seemed off. Low end lacks punch, rhythm guitar buried and the drums seem to clip during blasts. I still loved it but it would’ve been a top 10 contender with a better sound.
I agree that YONL was pretty boring
The biggest disappointment for me was probably Hooded Menace.
Yes!…that shit should have been released under a completely different and name because that was not a Hooded Menace album
For me it’s probably Archspire, AMENRA, Autarkh, Eyehategod, Skepticism and Khemmis and boy do some of those really fucking gut me to mention. Like, really, a lot.
They probably aren’t that popular around here, but Omnium Gatherum’s new album is quite a letdown for me. I was initially excited because some of the songs grabbed me, but nothing really clicked in a way that made it memorable. They’ve always been sort of up and down for me, but what I love I really love. I wish they could be more consistent.
This article is just about to get pushed off the front page, but real quick…
Ruins of Beverast – everyone is going to fall all over themselves jerking off to this album after finally stumbling onto the band with the Exuvia release, but honestly, this one feels like a step down. I see the progression from there to how we got here, but here feels a lot like meandering mid-tempo gothic doom
Hauktakammio – decent enough album when looked at by itself, but it feels like all the raw punky, black-n-roll stuff got stripped out in favor of “perfect” production and the album suffers for it.
Bekëth Nexëhmü – look, there is no reason for your vocals to be so buried that your album becomes completely indistinguishable from a fully instrumental release,
Hooded Menace – music for people who aren’t fans of Hooded Menace. I don’t care if band members want to stretch their range, but release this kind of stuff under a different name or something.
I will never get why Mastodon is not on this list. Sorry not sorry.