We’re about to hit the mid-point of the year, and as ever the amount of quality releases seems to increase with each passing breath. I’ve spent some portion of attention to 183 metal releases so far, and in a year where I find my personal tastes drifting more and more away from metal there’s always something that manages to pull me back in. So far there doesn’t seem to be a particular genre or style pressing its nose against the Trend Window™ (unless you count the amount of sax going on I guess…) and I’ve been surprised at the sheer variety of music pulling at my nerve endings these past six months.
So similar to last year, consider this edition of Nine Circles ov… a snapshot. It’s a measure of a point in time, personal to me and indicative as to where my head’s at halfway through the shitstorm that is 2018. And since that’s probably all the justification I’m going to give, so let’s do this.
By the time “Last Transmission From the Gate, Planet Earth,” the second track from The Atlas Moth’s third album Coma Noir was finished I was 100% sold on the more polished, aggressive attack of the band. The sludge and crusty noise of previous gems The Old Believer and An Ache for the Distance take a bit of a backseat as the progression that was always buried in the songwriting rises to the top. It’s a subtle evolution that pays off enormous dividends on tracks like “The Streets of Bombay” and “Furious Gold.” Far from feeling calculated, Coma Noir feels like an unshackling and it’s been a constant on my stereo since its release.
There has been a ton of killer death metal so far in 2018, and even better: it’s the old-school technical groove that isn’t afraid of showing its chops off with superb production and guitar hero shredding. De Profundis have over time only gotten better and better without losing an ounce of brutality, and it finally all comes together on The Blinding Light of Faith. As mentioned in my review, “Obsidian Spires” has enough riffs to create an entire album, but never loses cohesion and in fact gets even better when it veers into its quirky harmonized pop lick. Every track seethes with a rage over the atrocities committed in the name of religion, and that rage is matched by flawlessly executed and passionate death metal.
I’m going to take the easy way out and just leverage what I wrote about Black Heaven, the new album from Earthless for our Q1 roundup:
The surprising thing…isn’t that it’s fantastic, nor is it the fact that Black Heaven features (for the first time) vocals. It’s that the band has so effortlessly shifted their songwriting to shorter, punchier tunes that work perfectly with their newfound voice. Tracks like “Gifted by the Wind” and “Electric Flame” have a boogie psychedelic rock vibe that recalls early Grand Funk Railroad while remaining thoroughly modern and tripped out for stoners. Musically everything is still impeccably choice and savory.
The above still holds true, and more than (almost) anything else this has been the kind of music that’s been resonating with me the most this year.
When it comes to power metal I don’t think there’s going to be any contest this year. Judicator have in The Last Emperor taken a huge leap forward by returning to the historical, epic power metal they crafted on their earlier records and married it to the darker, technical aspects of previous album At The Expense of Humanity. It’s a case of going back, finding what worked and supercharging it; the crushing gallop of the title track and “Take Up Your Cross” raise the hairs on my neck, and those looking for an example of how to create epic metal flawlessly need look no further than “The Queen of All Cities,” which breathes new and inspired life into the kind of music Iron Maiden have been forging forever. If there’s something the duo of Tony Cordisco and John Yelland can’t do in metal they haven’t discovered it yet, and I doubt they ever will.
One of the things I find myself really responding to this year is song craft. All the technical wizardry and production tricks don’t amount to a hill of beans if its not in service to the song. And King Witch excel in ensuring the song comes before anything else in their brand of classic doom stomp. Debut Under the Mountain revels in a dark and dank riff-charged attack, relying on classic structures to accentuate the high levels of playing on display. From the speed attack of “Carnal Sacrifice,” the doomed blues of “Approaching the End” and the gorgeous forlorn ballad “Ancients” King Witch take the high road to craft some low-sounding swamp rock that hits the spot.
Something keeps bringing me back to the deep murk that is Feast for Water, the second full length from Italy’s Messa. This is a great example of how a seemingly disparate production style can really enhance an album or genre, in this case Messa’s hybridization of ambient and atmospheric doom. There’s an occult vibe to the proceedings evident on tracks like “Leah” but what I find even more present is this sense of despair and smoke, a tangible sensation that pervades every note of Feast for Water. I’m constantly drawn back to it, finding small nuances and moments that continue to keep the music fresh and unknowable each listen.
Too soon to call the death metal album of the year? Not for me. Rivers of Nihil have constructed not only what is easily the best album of their career, but one of the best technical and progressive death metal records of the last decade in Where The Owls Know My Name. I’m that over the moon for this record. That’s doubly huge praise considering I wasn’t all that enamored of their earlier work. Sometimes it takes a while to find your own identity in your music, and on elegantly twisted tracks like “A Home” and “Subtle Change (Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)” they fully embrace the prog-rock tendencies they kept buried under the surface while maintaining a ferocity that wends its way through out the entire album. I haven’t dimmed an ounce in my love for this record since reviewing it, and I expect to be singing its praises again come end of year.
There are things I want to say about RLYR and their latest album Actual Existence but I don’t know how to bring you into what I think about when I write music, as opposed to listening to it. There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of black metal on this list: I’ve been trying to stay away from it as I think about what the next NGC album will be. But then I heard Actual Existence and found the way the melody lines worked against the drums and how the production shoots for this weird blend of lo-fi that still allows everything to come through so clearly it just found its way into my writing, enough so that I had to take a break. There’s nothing remotely black metal about the post rock of RLYR and its refreshing sincerity about what it wants to do sonically, and that was exactly what I needed to hear. And still need to hear.
Have any of you picked yourself up off the floor yet after hearing “Beauty in Fallen Leaves” or are you like me, still trying to find all the fragments of your heart left shattered after dwelling too long on the fragile beauty of that song? It’s hands down my favorite thing Yob have ever done, and Our Raw Heart has climbed its way to my favorite Yob album. I could question how much of that comes from knowing the backstory, the trials and tribulations undergone by Mike Scheidt as he slowly felt his health fade away and finally come back from the precipice, and how I know I’m tangling that narrative into my own issues. And I could and maybe more importantly should separate the two things and take the album on its own merits. But I’ve never come to music analytically, and I don’t care one whit for objective and informed analysis when it comes to what my heart and soul responds to. And so this album finds itself at the bottom of the list alphabetically, but right at the top in terms of its effect and impact on my being.
I think that’s as good a place as any to end for today. Much like last year there were and are a number of other great albums that – on another day – could easily have found their place on this list, so sometime in the next week or so I’ll do another overflow column and spend some time talking about those. But for now all I want to do is lay back, close my eyes, and drift away on music that moves past my ears and into my soul, taking me away from the pain I see and feel every hour of the day. Because this is one of those days where reality slips just enough to let music transport and cloud, pin its hooks into the back of your brain and distract you from yourself.
This is the music currently doing that for me. Sound off in the comments as to what’s doing it for you.
One thought on “Nine Circles ov…2018: A Mid-Year Report”