(Raaf616 was not necessarily invited to write about the most virulent verses and lullabies of the year just past, but he did ask rather nicely (read: forcefully) whether he could give it a shot in the dark. This guest says he works in education, is an occasional scribbler of self-proclaimed abstract poetry bordering on obscurantism and his only real skill is that of finding mistakes in the work of his (su)peer(ior)s. Not to mention his affinity for keyboard-racing. He resides in Hanoi, Vietnam.)
According to the CDC, infectious diseases can be either bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic in nature (other than the CDC link, unless you somehow reverted back to troglodytical proclivities and missed it completely this time ’round last year, them be the greatest hits of 2022’s most infectious lists). There also exists a rare group of mephitic and contagious diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
TSEs or prion diseases are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative brain disorders with long incubation periods; progressing rapidly once symptoms develop, they are always fatal. I’m not saying that this list is so noxious it might kill you, but something has to kill you in the end, albeit the biggest predator here is the presence of overlong sentences. Full disclosure and disclaimer up next:
Hi, this will not be your normal infectious list. In fact, I went and looked it up and one can confidently negate this to being prodromal.
Let me make something very clear from the outset: This is not the culmination of Listmania into what we’ve become accustomed to as Islander’s signature send-off to our splashy rock spinning ’round our minor star one more time. We’ve all been waiting for something akin to The Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs of ’22, harking all the way back to this iteration of year-end exuberance’s inception fifteen years ago. I’m a reader like any other and rather selfishly, albeit aware of the editor’s predicament regarding being verily and Diabolic-ally swamped with their day-job, I suggested a sort of reader’s pre-quill sans the annual appeal to readers for help (please do drop any links to tracks in the comments which you deem worthy of having achieved bio-safety level 4 of contagion).
There’s a lot of foreplay here, but to steal from everyone’s favorite ASMR-parodying diorama-building social satirist (who might even’ve had a guest appearance at the end of Black Plumes over God’s Country /s) we didn’t know we needed, I’ll make it worth your while amongst all the exegesis.
Look, you might think you have time enough tomorrow, but it almost never is the case unless you ramp stuff up by literally willing yourself to bleed the future retrogressively. I set myself a deadline for 2pm EST for the second last day of January knowing that I was in way over my head; and so it was only apt for me to try and find ‘quickening’ inspiration from what has come before in this vaunted list, and yes ‘that’ Archspire song featured in part 3 of 2021’s list.
The very topic here today is that of things being catching. And just because something either does or does not encompass the qualities of being inherently evil, venomous, or all-encompassingly deleterious, does not mean it will or won’t be catchy. Look, I’m not trying to go all Schrödinger on your derrières. But outside of Vivaldi’s Spring and aethereal heroin, the catchiest hit we ever had as humans was the black plague (it is from merely a fortnight ago, but surely an early contender for next year?).
It seems like heavy music and its consumers have matured of late where one would hope one is not too cultish or elitist about things when writing about it. So as I’m sermonizing to the choir trying to get to the part where I quote old Karl in order to make the point that, just like that opium for the masses which a larger than utilitarian-majority of heavy music stands diametrically opposed to, my purpose in writing this piece was an attempt in keeping alive (and in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek cloud-daddy references, I got one all the way back from our boy Constantine that this here would be) the indictional most infectious list (an obscure papal term for ‘15 years’).
In caveman terms it be “Turn Big rock into smaller rock” which reminded me antithetically of the quintessential Vietnamese conical hat-donning saints whose profession is shuffling through trash for cans and the like to sell in dusty alleys with yellowing dead grasses framing the scene. Could not for the life of me remember the specific and less crass-sounding term than ‘ragpicker’, even though I have named a poem after it ‘cos of its propensity for wordplay (its other meaning is an ornamental chest of drawers). TL;DGR: I thesaurus-ized ‘ragpicker’ and finally refreshed my serially-succussed cerebral cortex in the knowledge of the word ‘chiffonnier’.
What I’m getting at is that hopefully this brief and failed attempt at modest logorrhea might open up a cabinet door into a perhaps new realm of sound, or if you’ve heard it all before, allow you to revisit a piece or two that didn’t quite stick the first time ’round the spindle. One chiffonier’s rags be another’s Vast Reaches Unclaimed after all. So, without much further ado, let’s get right to administering the universally accepted panacea to your photophobia in vantablack.
- THE FALS (GERMANY) – June 16th, 2023
Yes, there is a massive bias here towards the U.S. (5) and Germany (3) in this first and possibly last, and therefore technical singularity of a write-up, but it is only fitting to start it off with a presumably lesser-known group.
With opener Exiled in Gloom, vocalist Christian Scherer greets you with a warm shouty rendition of the song title as A.S. on guitars and K. on the drums give you the phenomenally precipitate prequel to what the album has to offer. Not exactly like a shoddy Hollywood trailer, more of an introductory summary, seeing as at the 1:26 mark we’re told that yes, there will be melodic asides and segues leading up to Behemoth-ian breakdowns which they then expand upon further by shifting gears once again right into tremolo-glory.
Yes, this song is more than 8 minutes long, but I promise you that you only need 2 minutes and 27 seconds to make an ‘oof’ face. And at that timestamp you’ll also understand why they’re labeled as blackened heavy metal on Encyclopaedia Metallum, yet, for all the presence of them tremolos, one would err more in favor of it being heavy black metal.
A similar experience on the same album: Emerging from the Ruins of Bel’ranaar, but, if you like to be pattern(ed) in the ivy before you go for your Blackwater Park stroll, try Zaar’nahsx Zyrbataar’s interlude before the inflammatory Cremate hits. They even still have the really cool-designed t-shirts for the latter available.
- AFTERBIRTH (UNITED STATES) – October 20th, 2023
For people who did not know that they needed Progressive Brutal Death Metal in their life.
Colin Marston has a finger in every pie. Recorded live by aforementioned prolific factotum as well as mixed and mastered to perfection by his necromancing self, the sublime artwork was done by Alex Eckman-Lawn. And you thought I was done name-dropping, but if you didn’t get your Will Smith fix at the movies this year, Afterbirth got you covered, he graciously slapped some…brutal…toilet-bowl gurgled rhymes on this dead baby. And the David Cases, Cody Drassers and Keith Harrises of this world – as certain as the pope defecates in the copse a field away – did not sign up for mere cameo appearances either.
If jazzy drums are your thing, in fact, if seemingly all-around commanded frenzied instrumentation and the death lamentations of a hapless pig – all conducted by the absolute majesty of a Bartókian interpretation of Vivaldi-an feel for melody, suspense and the tremors you sometimes only get from that perfect balance between the push and the pull of extreme music, are things you’re open to experiencing once in your life: then I’ll be damned if there was a band that got the ‘it’s about the silence between the notes’ amalgamation with ‘not enough notes’ sentiments more right than Afterbirth did with not just Devils With Dead Eyes, but with each and every seamless and perfectly arranged track on In But Not Of. (the title track slaps too and could just as well have been the ‘it’ song, but Devils with Dead Eyes hit first)
- THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE (GERMANY) – May 19th, 2023
This next song is a slow burner, on the longer end, but who am I to be presumptuous about your threshold for attention-deficit and verbiage? They haven’t put a foot wrong according to my discordantly sensorineural-ly affected ears (tinnitus-lite) in the past twenty years, and while it took me a few listens to put the whole damn thing on repeat, there was never any doubt in my mind that Atlantic just hit different.
It was off-kilter, it made me feel uneasy, I had to remind myself I was listening to a song by one of my favorite bands. And desert deities be damned, but didn’t it all start to make sense when I read them there lyrics. This is one band whose ability to put pen, strum and percussion to some of our most deep-seated fears and psychoses into a sublimating abreaction of elegance on vinyl is second to few. Robin Staps and crew set the bar so high each time one can only lay back in blissful reverence each time they bless the world with more music.
Naming your album after the eponymous final song off your last opus, a song that still has one of the dreamiest bass-lines this side of a lick by slap-daddy Davey504’s arch Japanese nemesis. In a year undeniably stacked in releases with productions all over the bloody spectrum of the sanguinely sophisticated to the licentiously crude, the last thing anyone ever doubted was this troupe of Germans’ taste for the mellifluous pathos they seem to hit every time. Subboreally.
- ALKALOID (GERMANY) – September 15th, 2023
Look, not many bands have achieved a suite-er spawn of elegance accentuated with chef’s kiss production than The Ocean Collective have done for nearly the past 2 decades, but they’re certainly not the only group that have augmented pre-history into a veritable cambrian explosion of excellence musically. And so it would be a fool’s desire not to include something from the inimitable alchemists atAlkaloid, and just like many entries into this antithesis of a tuple of a list, it is far from easy to choose one stand-out song from Numen.
There is one song, however, that no matter your level of exposure to the band prior to hearing it, or how deeply you were engorged on- and ensconced with- the absolute beautiful Clusterfuck that 2023 was for music, the latter would’ve stood out no matter how much you didn’t catch on yet that: clean vox are a thing you’re allowed to enjoy not just as an hors d’oeuvre but as an “oh duh” moment of damn this can be enjoyed together with the rest of the year of the rabbit (hole)’s oeuvre.
Age-restricted video of the song available here.
- ULTHAR (U.S.) – February 17th, 2023
There are those who feel Ulthar’s Helionomicon was the [add superlative here] album, but Anthronomicon always had a battered-back-to-life-piece-of-meat spot in my heart. Whereas some bands try to have their tractor in front of the trailer, Ulthar wanted to see how far they could push the Death by numbers spiel.
The track below is instantly captivating, with the bombast, groove, meat rack and cow prod all in one. This is just too much fun. If u ain’t moving, the genre ain’t the dead one son.
Them drums, so crispy, building into a succubus-stomp of opulent proportions – sorry, fractions – before slowing into the prescience of gloomy ambience once more (oh wait, that’s me harping on about Anthronomicon as a whole… or is that the eponymic first-half to Helionomicon?).
They went for the unassuming-in-a-throat punch kinda way of repeating the main riff so much in Flesh Propulsion it almost seemed as if they were trying to do a progressively unalive version of a Nocturnal Gatherings and Wicked Rites setup. Peacock, Lermo and Ennis take it a bit further though. There is a reason for it, and we get more than reward.
We are perhaps unworthy of it.
It’s the kind of progression that is rooted in a protozoic ne’er ‘volved into more than reptilian brain kind of stupefaction derived from simplicity.
Alas, there it is, the magnanimously proportioned matron of dreams greets us with cave-dwelling riffage peering out and saying goodnight because after you hear yourself mouth “THAT aGaiN??” – Enter bludgeoner of an imposing outro a la 4-minute mark??? Nope! build, build snare-ity blasted and back-beated unto corporeal punishment of… that verse one more time.
And so having endured salubrious sameness and repetition for nearly 5 minutes, to be then served at the 4:58 min mark by the most delectably exquisite, umami melts in your earholes – sublimely degenerate protean riff that runs for the final minute is a catharsis I’ll pay to experience ad infinitum.
Go on, do yourself a favor, skip everything and just listen to this track again in full, and as I wrote to myself 9 months ago in the spawn of a year-end list “if it ain’t on NCS’s most infectious list(s) come January ’24 then I’m living in a timeline warped by a mistake in CERN that resulted in an alternate reality in which the snares in ‘that’ Metallica album are universally and objectively seen as superior to the electric chair album.” (Follow Ahdy Khairat on YT, he does wonders with ‘tallica mixes.)
To plagiarize myself again, in both ‘nomicons big band swing breakdown riffs come into play that may be more accessible to most devourers of dissonance and technicality, but what sealed the deal for me on Ulthar’s releases were the ‘Sacremental Death Qualia’esque outros. Both albums are accoutered with exquisite art from Ian Miller, and just like their covers, the records transcend the norm.
- CICADA THE BURROWER (U.S.) – April 7th, 2023
Blight witch regalia opens with the title track, encapsulated from its inception by the ‘thrownness’ one experiences by its immediacy in arrival. Herald of Lions expands on this theme by mixing together vestiges of amphetaminic trip-hop, melancholic synths, and an urgency absolutely saturated in the poignancy of dysphoria, or its vanquishment.
This is not just a must-listen for anyone that has or is close to a person that has gone through one of the most isolating experiences know to humans, it is essential listening, glutted stop. That cover, the ambience, the mix, top 3 for me last year.
- MAJESTIES (U.S.) – March 3rd, 2023
The euphonious mashup of medieval munificence that is Obsequiae with the talents of Inexorum and Noltem into one melodious hold-my-Gothenb’-gourd.
- WAYFARER (U.S.-ian) – October 27th, 2023
Ever find yourself writing your first guest-article for your favorite blog and realizing it’s one hour before the deadline you set yourself: making it increasingly difficult to pick just one song off the other top-3-pick album from last year? You can’t go wrong with the opener, surely (it took me more than another day to cut-down on my verbosity, suffuse repetition and fix the formatting; basically every single one of us should try to write something now and then just to get a newfound respect for the work that the NCS staff do gratis). The crew that also helm Stormkeep have not relented on crafting the distinguished sonorous star bath of nigh spiritual proportions that they’ve been honing now for a decade.
… The Thousand Tombs Of Western Promise ensorcels with such a spectacular build to that 3:23 mark of consummate – nah let’s alliterate the fuck out of it (while borrowing from that most stately wielder of abstraction waxing about the old West, Cormac McCarthy) – supreme suzerainty, that one needn’t fight the urge to go back and listen to it again. Oh, one for sure can retrace one’s steps even if it is not a presumable first encounter with this particular flavor of Western gallows-swerving serendipity. It is just that the record as a whole enchants to such a degree which should render troubadours of this level and ability on any bounty hunter’s Most Wanted list.
If you doubtfully made it this far and found at least one riff or progression that got your outer appendages tapping, fear not, this one-trick pony still has another 12 US bands together with a repeat to bring it to the holy number of 13 to worm into your lugholes… Yes, I did also listen to music from elsewhere. There are also a ton of incumbent infections keening for appropriate hosts hailing from all over the globe.
As a riddled teaser for the next one: we might have to go outside of this galaxy transported by the decorated wooden framework of a sarcophagus whilst a Greek soldier harmonizes into the dissonance of the ash of a Bordeaux vine.
Thanks for your time, may the culmination of the year of the rabbit be a spiritually prosperous one for you and yours.
P.S. Here is a YouTube stream of all 8 songs selected above: