Best of 2014 – Dan’s List, Part Four

HornsUpTop25

It’s Tuesday, and we’re back with another round of favorites from 2014. You know the drill: three a day every day this week—in no particular order—followed by our Final Four at the end of the week in Episode 33 of the podcast. Roundabout? Yes. Will we get our Top 25 done by the end of the week? Also yes.

Yesterday, I gave you recaps for rather an odd mix of albums, and I see no reason not to continue mixing it up in these posts. Today’s three albums may come from three different metal sub-genres, but they’re all fantastic listens. They are:

Saor – Aura (Northern Silence)

SaorAura

If Andy Marshall’s second album under the one-man Saor moniker somehow doesn’t make you want to throw on a kilt and explore the Scottish highlands, you’re doing it wrong. (“It” meaning, of course, “life.”) In the Gaelic language, Saor means “free,” and Aura is just that—an unrestrained, triumphant, often quite beautiful hour of atmospheric folk metal. What sets the album apart for me is how well Marshall augments his cold, harsh, black metal foundation with traditional instrumentation. Whether he’s breaking out a tin whistle or bagpipes, in quieter intro parts or over the loudest, most boisterous of verses, the combination always feels like an accent, like it’s playing out effortlessly. Certain folk metal contemporaries (*cough* Eluveitie *cough*) have a way of beating you over the head with their traditional influences, but that’s never an issue on Aura; Marshall does enough with his song structures and lyrics to ensure the Celtic instruments are never left as the sole standard bearers of his folk side, and can instead chime in tastefully in support. As a result, Aura becomes an immensely enjoyable and surprisingly quick listen, one you’ll want to partake in over and over again.

Tombs – Savage Gold (Relapse)

Tombs-Savage-Gold

Simply put, Tombs’ Savage Gold was one of the past year’s most consistent and complete albums. Hiring Erik Rutan as your producer will usually have that effect, though, and under his supervision, the Brooklynites channeled their not-quite-death-, not-quite-black-, not-quite-post- sound into a ferocious, suffocating package. That’s not to say he’s limited them, though; the diversity of sounds at play here is still very impressive. “Portraits,” for example, might open with a blast-beaten, tremolo-picked black metal passage, but just three songs later, you get”Deathtripper,” which wouldn’t have felt out of place on, say, Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata. Through it all, Mike Hill’s gutteral roar scratches and claws at you, finding ways to linger in the darkest corners of your mind all throughout Savage Gold‘s hour-long run time. And don’t look now, but Andrew Hernandez II puts in a terrific, versatile performance behind the skins, too. Constants like these keep Tombs’ musical shifts feeling tasteful, and ultimately make for an excellent listen.

Earth – Primitive and Deadly (Southern Lord)

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What a great album from the Olympia, WA, drone legends. Let’s clarify right off the bat: this isn’t so much a drone record as it is a doomy, stoner metal head-trip. Over five songs and 45-odd minutes on Primitive and Deadly, Earth conjures up images not of the end of the world, but rather of a long walk through the desert on acid. And for the first time since 1996’s Pentastar: In the Style of Demons, they use vocals to augment this effect—bringing on Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Rabia Shaheen Qazi (Rose Windows) for some inspired guest spots. Lanegan’s worn, gravelly voice suits these excursions perfectly, and the drawing-out of the songs affords him a number of opportunities for call-and-response patterns with guitarists Dylan Carlson and guest-man Brett Hetson. But Qazi’s a different beast entirely. She brings a booming, bluesy…dare I say, sexy?…vocal lead to the 11-and-a-half minute “From the Zodiacal Light” that’ll just give you chills. All in all, a complete master-work of psychedelic doom. Give it a chance, and get yourself lost in it.

That’ll do it for me. You know the drill from here—Corey already got his post for today out, so check back for Quickies later on tonight and our next round of Best-of’s tomorrow! Until then.

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

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