Niek’s List of Best 15 Albums Reviewed – Part 1
So, after our recent announcement of the list of lists, today marks the first part of three of our list. We’ll start with a grouping of six albums. Albums that are ‘good’, to such an extent that they should really be in any Metalhead’s collection.
These first six are in no particular order. In fact, to express this, I’ve put them in alphabetical order based on band name – and so actually they are in a particular order, but it has nothing to do with how high I would rank each.
By the way, to cover my ass, my list entries may not necessarily match up 100% with the grading given or the reviews themselves. The reason is time. Sometimes hearing something the first few times can be an amazing experience, but as time passes and you hear something more often, the experience wears off. Obviously a review should incorporate this possibility, but the simple truth is you can never be completely right or accurate. And tastes and preferences shift, in my case quite heavily over the course of this year.
So, what this list captures is longevity. An album’s capability to continue to capture its listener. In that sense, these are all albums that will stay interesting. Albums that need to be taken out of your huge motherfuckin’ album rack regularly or from time to time, because they will keep on tickling pleasure bones.
Now to kick off! Different from what would have made it in if I had still had last year’s taste, this list contains a lot of Black Metal, the type that is either symphonic or melodic or both. All of it turns out to end up in today’s batch, in part because I’m still adapting to Black Metal. Make no mistake though, these are piece by piece extremely strong records!
Amon Amarth – Surtur Rising
But first, because the alphabet commands it, Amon Amarth! The Swedish band that is the pinnacle of Viking Metal gave away one of the best performances I’ve been attending this year. Admittedly, I didn’t attend a lot, but even if I had this would still have been the case.
Their album Surtur Rising came out approaching the end of March, and when I reviewed it, the conclusion was that it sounds a lot like… Amon Amarth. There’s absolutely nothing new and that’s precisely why I enjoyed it so much. To quote myself: ”It’s like a hamburger. You can slap caviar on it, or truffles, or some shit, and try to posh it all up, but you’re just gonna make it suboptimal.”.
But this is also probably why many a Metalhead will not enjoy this. Hamburgers may not satisfy these people’s exquisite tastes. To be fair, I can completely understand this and in fact, I’m often like that myself. It’s just that Amon Amarth is so fuckin’ Amon Amarth. Epic. The original. The only one. You get the idea. My view: it’s a good album and the recipe couldn’t have been better.
To serve you a taste of it, here’s the official music video for Destroyer of the Universe.
Nightrage – Insidious
Nightrage has been one of the key bands in my own Metallic development and there’s a reason: the way they mix Extreme Metal with incredibly catchy melodies, and moreover a very accessible atmosphere for those not completely ignorant, is proof of shear brilliance. Their melodies swirl and spin and jump up and down, all over the fuckin’ place, but in such a gracious yet exciting way that you could probably Waltz to it.
My comments on the album at the time of reviewing were the following: ”Insidious is ab-so-lutely stuffed with melody and emotion. In fact, I’m surprised it doesn’t come with a box of tissues and a strip of Valium, because fuck, this album makes kick-assedness flow around your bloodstream buckets at a time.” I don’t think I can put that any more accurate.
Have yourself the record’s title track!
Pathogenic – Cyclopean Imagery
One of the best things I heard coming out of the US this year. It’s also one of the very few Djenty albums that actually manages to do more than just ”sound nice”. Pathogenic are technical, Djenty, emotion-sensitive and just incredibly creative. Cyclopean Imagery is only their debut record, but it exhibits a massive conceptual maturity.
Quoting from the review: ”the band employs plenty of variation in atmosphere, loudness, technique and style, such that the full hour the album’s worth stays interesting.” And that’s still a fact today! Sometimes Cyclopean Imagery is mellow, sometimes it’s incredibly brutal, up to the point where we shoot straight into Brutal Death Metal, if it weren’t for the sluggish riffage that characterizes Djent.
Cyclopean Imagery is an album that anyone with a taste for intelligent Metal should go and check out! Have yourself the album’s title and closing track that takes the record full circle, from brutally pissed off in the beginning to relaxed and mellow at the end, tying back in with the opening song.
Raven Woods – Enfeebling the Throne
Turkey then. Raven Woods, misspelled in our review as Ravenwoods, as bass-man Ozan Yildirim pointed out to us when we interviewed him. Their brand of Metal combines raw and brutal Black Metal with Oriental Folk music in a highly original manner: ”a great fuckin’ combination; face-pounding, gut-slicing Metal with the mythical tunes of the orient to paint out the details.”
My conclusion: ”The conclusion is already clear I guess, but let’s give it again anyway. This shit’s hot shit! Highly recommended for those with a liking for creative and mythical atmosphere-rich Black Metal! If you find yourself attracted to the likes of Behemoth, Keep of Kalession or Dimmu Borgir to name just a few, this may be a welcome addition to your collection. It may not be as loud or crushing as these, but it’ll definitely make up for that in terms of variation and sophistication.”
Saille – Irreversible Decay
Saille are a bunch of Black Metal heroes from Belgium. But not just that. What they do oh so incredibly well is mix their Black Metal with symphonics. Irreversible Decay is the band’s debut, released in early March, and it’s one of the strongest, most complete debuts I’ve ever heard. And that’s in terms of music, sound production, care and variation.
What the review says: ”Symphonic Black Metal is usually a Metal band with one extra dude simulating an orchestra on his keyboard: fake. Saille on the other hand invited a couple of violins, cellos, bugles and trumpets to join the show: REAL! And that shows! This stuff sounds serious and I’ve got the feeling like I’m inside some sort of 19th century Hell movie.”
And further: ”To put it to you in short: this is an amazing album capable of instantly throwing your mood around and of playing with your sanity like a child plays with ants and spiders and pulls their legs off without remorse or consideration. It is majestic. It’ll also be a bit heavy for some people, so if you consider yourself to possess suboptimal mental strength, reconsider, or your mom might have to wash your brain pieces off the walls of your room. Else: get it as soon as you can!” Couldn’t get more accurate than that.
Here’s the official music video to Plaigh Allais. Which is cool!
Stielas Storhett – Expulse
And our last Black Metal album in the list is from Russia: Stielas Storhett’s Expulse. To be brutally honest, this one is the one I’ve enjoyed most. Scored it the maximum score too. And I still stand behind that.
And for a reason! Expulse is one man’s vision and of such intelligence, catchiness, emotion and depth that it possesses the power to make girls cry. From sadness rather than fright, mind you.
Quoting myself on the album’s sound, ”For a Black Metal record, there’s something special about the ‘color’ of the guitar sound. It’s still a bit raw, but not nearly as raw as you’d expect. Instead of being drowned out in poor production’s hollowness, these guitars sound full and open, coming to you clearly and cleanly instead of through a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an old tape. Now I can have the painful atmosphere and all else Black Metal has to offer without instantly wanting to shoot myself through the mouth.” Just one of the album’s differentiating characteristics.
But to summarize this album’s real power I wrote this: ”An obvious talented musician he has understood the power of varying strength of a stroke, beat or note, of leaving plenty of humanity in the playing as opposed to a near machinal yet static playing style. It is not the number of notes or the size of the span of the fingers of one hand in playing two consecutive notes that defines a true musician, but exactly this.” And it’s a fuckin’ fact!
So far for Part 1 of this list. Part 2 will appear on the site soon, as soon as I’ve found the time and motivation to do the write-up. These things take more time than you think, you know!