Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Best of 2014 (Albums & Gigs)

TOP 50 of 2014

*highlighted in red: reviewed albums, click the title*

Opeth is my favorite band and their quality transcends lists but to be fair, my favorite record of 2014 is the next one on the list! Pale Communion managed to be a great prog rock album, something that their previous one Heritage failed at.

1. Interpol - El Pintor
Probably my favorite alternative rock band, their 2 previous albums were flat compared to the usual quality they were used to with their classic debut and their excellent sophomore Antics. With El Pintor (anagram for Interpol), they're back with their best album since a while. I was pretty sad when their Montréal gig got reported due to the band being stucked in Buffalo due to the big snowstorm there.

2. Triptykon - Melana Chasmata
Tom G. Warrior is back with the second Triptykon and he's as mighty as ever. I probably like his new project more than his classic days of Celtic Frost if that's even possible. Crushing doom extreme metal with a real somber atmosphere.

3. Horrendous - Ecdysis 
2014's best death metal album, a great mix of old school death, melodic death, prog and technical death in a very potent formula.

4. Primordial - Where Great Men Have Fallen
Another great album from the Irish boys, they just can't write bad songs. 

5. Wovenhand - Refractory Obdurate
David Eugene Edwards' (formerly of 16 Horsepower) newest album, his alternative dark country/neo folk country is as good as ever and even includes some slight metallic influences.
6. Mastodon - Once 'Round the Sun
7. Domains – Sinister Ceremonies
8. Young and in the Way - When Life Comes to Death
9. Prajna - The Summer Eclipse
10. Swallowed – Lunarterial

12. Giant Squid - Minoans
13. Opium Warlords - Taste my Sword of Understanding
14. Mausoleum Gate – Mausoleum Gate
15. Ningen Isu - Burai Houjou
16. Gridlink - Longhena
17. Ogre - The Last Neanderthal
18. Lucifer's Fall - Lucifer's Fall
19. Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole
20. Teitanblood - Death
21. Mansion - 
The Mansion Congregation Hymns Vol​.​1
23. Zaum - Oracles
24. Martyrdöd - Elddop
25. Sons of Crom – Riddle of Steel
26. Aureole - Alunar
27. Phillipe Katerine - Magnum
28. StarGazer - A Merging to the Boundless
29. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
30. Cretin - Stranger
31. Hail Spirit Noir – Oi Magoi
32. Barrabas - Messe pour un chien
33. ZOM  - Flesh Assimilation
34. Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain
35. Mantar – Death by Burning
36. Portrait – Crossroads
38. Incantation – Dirges of Elysium
39. Murmur - Murmur
40. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - Check 'em before you wreck 'em
41. Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral
42. The Great Old Ones – Tekeli-Li
43. L'Ira del Baccano - Terra 42
45. Basalte- Vestige
46. Yob - Clearing The Path To Ascend
47. Phobocosm - Deprived
48. Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
49. Slough Feg – Digital Resistance

Albums I haven't heard enough yet:
Spectral Lore - III
Furia - Nocel
Orange Goblin - Back from the Abyss
Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith
Dawnbringer – Night of the Hammer
Godflesh - World Lit Only by Fire
Morbus Chron - Sweven
Mansion - Uncreation

Disappointing albums of 2014 :Dead Congregation -Promulgation of the Fall
-A samey mess of tired old school death metal, a bitter disappointment after the genius approach of Graves of the Archangels.

Slough Feg – Digital Resistance
One of my favorite bands of all time released their weakest album to date. It's a confused unfocused album trying to mix their folky hard hittin' heavy metal with their sci fi progressive rock and their Thin Lizzy approach on the same album. While still good, it doesn't quite work.

Most anticipated albums of 2015 :

Enslaved – In Times
New Leeches of Lore
Aktor - Paranoia
Melechesh – Enki
Lord Fist - Green Eyleen

Chthe'ilist's debut full length

TOP 10 GIGS OF 2014

Blasphemy @RRROAAARRR 

1) Hooded Menace Read the review
2) Loop
3) RRROOOAAARRRR festival with Incantation, Blasphemy... Read the review
4) Wings of Metal with Holocaust, Blood Ceremony, Bolzer Read my review
5) Uncle Acid with Danava Read the review
6) Subrosa Read the review
7) The Ocean with The Atlas Moth 
8) Ulcerate with Phobocosm and Chthe'ilist Read the review
9) Amnesia Rockfest with Alice in Chains, Weezer, Meshuggah...
10) Zaum with Dopethrone Read the review
11) Mac Demarco with The Besnard Lakes and Solids

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Volahn - Aq'Ab'Al (2014/2015) / 93%

Pre-Columbian Darkness

Eduardo Ramírez is back with the newest Volahn album and the first full length since 2008. Proclaimed as the leader of the cult Black Twilight Circle, a being that can be considered to be the Californian equivalent to the Les Légions Noires. This man evolves in many like minded band and creates some of the most interesting American black metal currently being released. Inspired by the pre-hispanic cultures (look at this marvelous cover), this closed and mystic scene is an unique beast able to differentiate itself from the pack.

Alongside spiritual brothers like Odz Manouk or Blue Hummingbird on the Left, there's a very esoteric sound found in Volahn's music. The cultural identity of the band is tightly linked to its atmospheric purposes, you can definitely feel the historical weight of the Maya or Aztec civilizations in his music throughout classical guitars, subtle but enjoyable ambient and nature touches. Rich and with a very organic production, Aq'Ab'Al is a bulldozer of riffs and tremolos leads that are the bread and butter of this album. They make the ten plus minutes songs stand out and become brief, tremendous voyages into the heart of pre colonial America. Furthermore, Ramírez' sense of melody is pretty outstanding, he knows how to write guitar leads that are worth investing your hard earned money into this album instead of visiting the Latin America ruins (well, do both if you can, of course.)

Musically, it's a mix of many black metal scenes, some Norwegian hints here and there to go with the German (think Nagelfar), Polish or Greek scenes. It's intricate and fancy as hell but never forgets to unleash the evilness and occultism necessary in black metal (Christian black metal can go live with Scott Stapp and thrive with the words of god). Volahn is yet another proof that you don't need to constantly evoke the name of the fallen angel to create a worthwhile dark aura.

The thematic and musical approach really reminds of the gigantic Mesopotamian beast Melechesh who also walks their own ideological paths (I can't wait for their new album scheduled for February and making me wish it was 2015 already), Volahn akin to Ashmedi's seminal project, are able to compose intense, groundbreaking black metal with deep, relevant folkloric and cultural integrations. The use of the always colorful Spanish language obviously serves as a catalyst and pushes the execution of their will to a higher level.

I'm just discovering this circle but I'll surely investigate it since its vision is awesome. It's my sort of black metal, it's varied while being cohesive and has the sound quality that is the middle ground between raw and clean.

Highly recommended for black metal fans that want something midly adventurous while not treading on cheesy or saccharine territories.

Already out on tape on Crepúsculo Negro, to be released on CD and LP on Iron Bonehead in January 2015

Giant Squid - Minoans (2014) / 90%

“We will be forgotten, we will be lost”... 

Well, hopefully they won't be...

Giant Squid were always an odd beast (excuse the expression) in the metal ocean, it took them five years to release a follow up to the excellent The Ichthyologist but now Minoans has hits the waves and so far the response has been widely positive. Their blend of cello induced post/doom/atmospheric/whatever metal is definitely not for everyone but it's definitely for me.

This concept album is about (I hope you got it) the Minoan civilization. I was already hooked on the album before listening to it since history is one of my passions (I'm writing this review instead of finishing some papers, it's currently my last year of studies before becoming a history teacher, woo) and the superb cover art helped the whole thing. The Minoan civilization is an interesting subject for a concept album since it's one of the earliest ones to emerge in Europe and there's still many theories explaining its downfall. The most popular being the eruption of a nearby volcano which could had led to economic repercussions for the naval power located on the island of Crete and a sudden weakness against the continental menace of the Mycenaean civilization.

I feel the historical context is a little bit important to the understanding of the album since the contextual approach is more than lyrical, it's transposed with the rich musicality of this record. You can definitely hear the Greek influences created by both the instrumentation but also the choice of riffs, it's way more Greek than anything Septic Flesh did in the last fifteen years, let me you tell that. The band always had a sort of classical feel due to Jackie Perez Gratz's cello (well known for her contributions for Agalloch, Neurosis and many others) but I feel it's pushed to its apex here, it feels natural and it's simply another instrument being as important as the huge bass presence, the ethereal keys and the subtle but profoundly heavy guitars. Their songs are slow catchy dirges but they never really drag, only the opening title track is over six minutes. It's brooding and has the sense of urgency that can be related to the dramatic end of an era or a culture (listen to the ending of “Six Foot Waves”.) The cello really shines most of the time but the other musicians are all more than solid and they help Giant Squid's identity development. Indeed, the band doesn't sound like any others, they mix genres effortlessly into a very progressive formula that transcends labels.

I always liked ballads, I feel a band can prove its worth by dropping the tough act to compose something truly beautiful (see my favorite band Opeth with “To Bid You Farewell” or “Credence”), that's something they did with “The Pearl and the Parthenon”, sang by both Perez Gratz and Aaron John Gregory (vocals, guitars, artwork), it's harmonious and doesn't feel detached from the rest of the release like it's often the case with this kind of experimentation. The clean vocals they use are neither powerful nor excellent but they possess this sort of entrancing ability and they're very charismatic. Gregory is the lead singer but he's, most of the time, attended by the cellist who do all kind of back vocals. This adds a lot of depth to an already immensely rich and well produced album.

With its 43 minutes length, the album feels short (especially that it ends quite abruptly), its predecessor was 20 minutes longer and I feel the band could really shine by expanding their slow, desperate side. Their music remains weirdly catchy, smooth and heavy and it never reaches cheesy territory even though it would be easy to with a geeky concept like this one (see David Defeis' Virgin Steele.)

Impossible to classify, Minoans is without a doubt one of the best albums of 2014, ride the waves till you reach the shores of Crete or San Francisco, maybe the link between the band and its concept is the Mediterranean climate?

Serve with Feta cheese, olives and lots of wine.

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