Yob Song by Song: The Illusion of Motion

I used to be unhappy. I used to wonder, ‘what does obey the riff really mean?’ Thanks to The Illusion of Motion, know I now. Now I am happy. Now I am doomed.

The Illusion of Motion is slow, often dissonant, unfriendly on the ear as it scrapes along, and confrontational through the extremities that it presents; the average bpm is under a beat per second, the guitars are tuned to Drop A, the chords are slurred, and it seems to slow down as it rumbles on. Individually these characteristics can be found in many Yob songs, but here they have all been combined, and at 26 minutes and ten seconds, this melding has taken placed within Yob’s longest song.

Whilst wondering why this album was named after this particular song, I found myself thinking that maybe, at over 20 minutes long, this song is an illusion of motion in its form. There are a couple of problems with this idea. Firstly, I doubt this would have been Yob’s thought process – it seems a bit self–defeating. Secondly, this form and this repetition become part of this song’s strength; as is the case with nearly all Yob songs, it feels as though these lengths are not played for their own sake, but because these lengths are needed for Scheidt, Sato and Foster to play all that needs to be played, and for Scheidt, the main song writer, to channel all that he needs to say. Infinite Jest is over 1100 pages long (shut up, it’s great) because that’s how long David Foster Wallace thought it needed to be to tell the story that it does. Thirdly, and more explicitly, this title refers to, you guessed it, organised religion, though through a decidedly more philosophical angle this time round;

Try to climb the human walls
Tear them down and see what remains
Emptied of the embattled false
Will to resist disappears
Emptied of half truths taught from birth
With the dawn of emptiness

The lyrics confront the idea of getting what we want but not being happy; that’s why it’s called The Illusion of Motion. This brings its confrontational properties back to the fore; at 19.40 (yes, that’s minutes and seconds, not the year) a sudden burst of speed drags the track into a whirling, feedback–heavy skronk–out.

As an album, The Illusion of Motion is the first album where Yob began to write big, sad songs, and is more expansive than previous album Catharsis, which remains relatively straightforward within the oeuvre of Yob, and a sign of the slightly less doom–orientated and more particular approach of Yob’s next album, The Unreal Never Lived.

I used to be unhappy. I used to wonder, ‘what does obey the riff really mean?’ Thanks to The Illusion of Motion, and it’s big, sad songs, know I now. Now I am happy. Now I am doomed.

 

Riffs To Give You Sunburn: Spiral Shadow

Perfect weather for sludge metal, no?

Spiral Shadow emanates heat. Although this is true for most sludge metal (can you think of an icy–sounding sludge band?), Kylesa’s knack for melody, which, of their seven albums, they showcase most effectively on this one, puts a bit of pep in their sound that goes nicely with the sunshine. The Pimms of sludge metal, if you will.


 
Combine this warmth with a woozy quality – Kylesa clearly dig Pink Floyd and guitar pedals – and this album, despite sludge’s traditionally blown out sound, suggests a lot of space. The shimmery intro of Tired Climb leads into one of those riffs gives the << button a lot of use, and even at these cave–in moments, of which there are a couple throughout the album, this album feels expansive. This is coupled with tight song writing (only two songs run past four minutes) and a variety of styles; Cheating Synergy (the definition of the latter, neatly, being ‘the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions’)[1] mixes punk, sludge and shredding. Crowded Road uses the Arabic scale. Don’t Look Back combines the cheery thunder of Torche with a Pixies vibe. To Forget sounds like a raga. If I knew a few more indie bands I might say Back and Forth sounds a bit indie [2]. The vocals vary throughout, from punk shout to sludge growl to Laura Pleasant’s cooing.

Point being, while it’s cool to spend an hour imaging you’re tromping through the desert with the Sandraiders and Ewoks and Dobby the Elf whilst spinning Dopesmoker, if you’re after something more akin to a collection of, well, songs, put Spiral Shadow on and enjoy that Pimms.

1. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/synergy

2. That’s a compliment.

 

Yob Song by Song: Doom #2

As the title suggests, Doom #2 is much less expansive than most of Yob’s other numbers. Standing at six minutes long, it is their second shortest song and comprised of only two main riffs, neither of which are particularly refined. The intro riff could be a weighed–down Black Flag track until the drums kick in with cymbal–heavy fills and Scheidt starts roaring.

 

Going by the title, I’d guess that this was an early song that Yob didn’t feel would fit onto whichever of their earlier albums, or even their 2000 self–titled demo. At another guess, it could just as equally be a number Yob wrote off the cuff. Besides being their second shortest song ever (the average track length on this album is nearly 13 and a half minutes), this is also one of Yob’s most nakedly aggressive, and at 168bmp one of their fastest. Even when it thins out for an interlude there’s menace lurking under that wah, and lyrically Scheidt et al carry the flame from Exorcism of The Host by still sounding particularly pissed about organised religion;

Inside the anger grows
From words made up of dust
The false leaped from the breath of centuries
Tearing our lives apart

I wasn’t a particularly big fan of this track at first. For a band that can be as good as they can be, I thought that this was quite a generic harsh stoner number, ultimately disposable, lacking memorable riffs and a captivating structure. However, with time I have come to consider it to be quite distinctive; maybe it’s the way it sits between a 13 minute song and a 26 minute song, or, in a discography of a band known for their depth and philosophical concerns, its rough edges and punk energy.

Yob Song by Song: Exorcism of the Host

…Yob disagree, Mr Angel.

As in preceding track Ball of Molten Lead, Exorcism of the Host begins with a tolling bell. Somebody says something through backmasking. Scheidt roars. Drums crash. Guitars hammer in with a weird, harsh, descending riff full of chromatics. This is funeral doom (for those not in the know: think of a dirge) and the most mournful track Yob had penned to this date. The momentum of prior track, Ball of Molten Lead, is misleading – it really doesn’t carry through, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although there is some pace in the ‘verses’ and ‘choruses’, including a great, clean, solemn guitar solo at 8.30, Exorcism of The Host still averages a bpm of 44 and is heavily repetitive, leading to two thoughts:

1) The exorcism in question is an auditory one, created through the repetition of the aforementioned hammering riff for seven and a half minutes, until heaving into a riff of concrete after nine minutes and finishing on a scream best described as ‘painful’. This matches the lyrics, which invert the usual concept of exorcism by placing organised religion as the evil that needs to be cast out and away from humanity:

Oil and water
Fuel for the slaughter
Breeds remorse and breeds regret
The false prophets scream their disease

2) What separates this – and there certainly is something that does – from more average funeral doom bands, who also rely on extensive repetition? More specifically, what if these bands were made to go acoustic, as a kind of litmus test? This is a bit of an unfair question, as being amplified is clearly part of most doom bands’ sound, but bear with this idea; would their riffs and song writing still function without spiralling feedback, decibels and distortion? Going out on a limb, I’d say that for Yob the answer is yes, and that certainly wouldn’t be the answer for a couple of big bands I can think of. Despite the heft of this track, maybe this is because Yob don’t sound like a doom band whose only direct influences are other doom bands.

Yob Song by Song: Ball of Molten Lead

Yob - The Illusion of Motion cover art

Doom has many tricks up its sleeve, some clever, some not so clever (‘Hey, play riff A for 10 minutes, then riff B for 20 minutes, then I guess we’ll just jam it out from there’) (which, it should be said, does work sometimes) (Bong, I’m looking at you), but there aren’t many tricks that top that simple, atavistic sound with which metal was announced to the world: a tolling bell.

Comparing Black Sabbath’s titular song to the opening track of The Illusion of MotionBall of Molten Lead, the contrast between the two is more immediately obvious. In Black Sabbath the influence of the blues is more readily apparent, Ozzy sings, Iommi and Butler didn’t detune as far as Scheidt, it isn’t informed by three decades of metal – you can hear how much drummer Bill Ward was influenced by big band jazz – and the structure is a simpler and more compact AB pattern. Ball of Molten Lead is very much informed by doom, there’s a lotta slack in those strings (read: is detuned by seven notes), Scheidt roars, and the structure involves quite a more few letters of the alphabet. With a couple of listens, however, a subtler similarity arises; both Black Sabbath and Ball of Molten Lead tell horror stories, which in their form, are particular to the genre of doom. To generalise, where death metal and grindcore tend to be gratuitous with gore or suffering, as is thrash when it’s not talking about partying and nukes, and black metal is railing against Judeo–Christian ideology over there in the corner (sludge passed out in the bath tub a while ago), doom works more along the lines of you’ve got an unpleasant death coming up real soon, but we’re not going to give you the details, so you’re just gonna have to find those out for yourself. Hang tight while we soundtrack these closing moments of your life.

It’s straightforward enough to hear Black Sabbath and know that, after the intro of rain and a tolling bell and that tritone, an unreckonable and sinister figure designates the narrator ‘the chosen one’. As mentioned, at first Ball of Molten Lead compares as more sophisticated, but set up by the wailing wind and the tolling bell, when the rolling riff of the reverberating guitar and marching snare of Ball of Molten Lead enters there’s a comparable sense of the eleventh hour being at hand. To my ears/overactive imagination, it conjures a scene of surrounding and endless waves, being pushed along with their crashes and all alone. The opening lyrics are ‘Death on the horizon’, and the lead guitar line that enters at 5.20 reminds me of maybe that most canonical metal song about dying, For Whom The Bell Tolls. There is a new harshness to the vocals, Scheidt utilising screaming alongside his roar for the first time, exacerbated by the low EQ cut. As it mutates into what becomes the verse riff, it becomes more dissonant, with three harsh descending chords at the end of every four bars. The lyrics, told from the perspective of a dying person, deliberately jar just before the song ends; from first to last verse (let’s call it them ‘verses’ for the sake of argument) they describe moving from

The soul is unprepared
Fear runs deep
Always agonizing
On what can’t be known

to

Void the gaze without the eyes
Shedding tears but no one cries
Inhale the space of the vessel
Bid the host a last goodbye

But before we all get to join hands, hum Kumbaya and float off to the great gig in the sky, they close on

I try but I can’t dislodge this
Ball of doubt.

When it comes to dying, doubt has a powerful hold; what really happens after death? The truth is that no one knows – and that’s as heavy, unsolvable and universal is it gets.

Review ’em All: Heartless, Pallbearer

Signed by bass guitarist Joseph Rowland at the Camden Underworld 6/4/17 show. Cheers dude!

I initially wrote off Pallbearer, and in particular, their first album, Sorrow and Extinction, as dull critical darling material. Second album Foundations of Burden made me shut my big yap, by means of conjuring that rarefied mood of being happy to be so sad. Let’s face it, by and large doom metal is far too cheery for its own good, and with lead single Thorns delivering on weepy melodies, I’m excited about the potential of new album Heartless to turn that smile upside down.

 

Three albums in, by now Pallbearer have a couple of calling cards; the rich layering of riffs and melodies, clean guitar breaks with a neo–classical feel, long songs that make light use of repetition through rapid development between sections, and Brett Campbells’ mellow, almost subdued, singing, with the intelligible lyrics being a corollary to this last point. The two guitars are used cleverly; when there’s space they’re often playing different lines (I Saw The End and Thorns both being excellent examples), and the number of quick switches into clean or acoustic guitars makes me wonder if there is a fan of classical music in Pallbearer, besides the David Gilmour influence most obviously displayed on Dancing in Madness and the stamp of …And Justice For All all over the aforementioned clean breaks. Bass guitarist Rowland is also no slouch, carving fills and runs into the thickness, second track Thorns being a particularly good example. This track is also actually quite fast, as are parts of Cruel Road, so what is it that indisputably still makes this doom? A large part of it is Campbell’s vocals and Joseph Rowland’s backing vocals, mournful, sometimes imploring, but mostly resigned. Pallbearer have moved beyond anger; this is thousand yard stare stuff. The opening lines of Lie of Survival, after two minutes of dust mote arpeggios and a Gilmour guitar line, are

All ours gods have fled
retreated to the sky
from there they watch us fall
beneath the building tide

The cover art shows a sea of people reaching out to a sleeping colossus, only for the back cover to show them fleeing from its approach. Recurring lyrical themes are mankind’s atavistic resort to violence, endless travelling, Armegeddon, and trying to let go of anger in order to survive aforementioned Armegeddon. If you have any friends (pause) who you think could do with a bit more sadness in their life, Heartless, being fairly accessible through its clean singing, is a great way to start dragging them down. I’d even go as far as to say the vocals on closing track A Plea For Understanding are more like something I’d expect to hear on an indie album.

For the first few listens I did wonder if this album flowed, or, rather, was a collection of very good songs, but with each listen the flow becomes stronger, more apparent. The odd use of synths are unnecessary; they’re utilised for atmosphere, but as the rest of the band already has this covered, don’t end up adding much.

Want to mellow the mood in this post–Black Sabbath age? Think that doom metal needs to get real? Want to get worked up about 60 plus minutes of intense sadness? Put on Heartless and turn that smile upside down.

Gojira, still the heaviest matter of the universe at the O2 Kentish Forum 12/3/17

Ah, Gojira. Eleven years, four albums and seven gigs since discovering them through From Mars to Sirius in 2006, here we (well, they) are, headlining the Kentish Forum. I wasn’t as big a fan of their last two albums – they were good, but having placed Gojira on such a pedestal, keeping up with my expectations was always going to become impossible/not their concern. I felt that to say a Gojira album was ‘good’ was a backhanded compliment; if each album wasn’t ploughing a new furrow for ecologically–minded progressive death metal it was falling short of my expectations. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from this gig, especially given their confusingly short and poorly EQed support slot for Alter Bridge last November (30 minutes ÷ long songs = not long enough).

Opening act [Car_Bomb] were tight as a limpet, playing riffs as tricky as a weasel, and impressive in their own right, but I’m not sure if song A is all that different from song Z. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Code Orange’s mix of metallic hardcore with other styles, but I quickly came to enjoy the frequent curve balls that peppered their set.

But Gojira was what I had been waiting for. I am pleased to report that as soon as drummer Mario Duplantier walked out and started playing the drum intro to Only Pain a little bit of personal hysteria and a lot of roaring ensued, and from there on in Gojira crushed all and sundry like, well, the heaviest matter of the universe.

Contrary to my expectations of a Magma–heavy set, they mixed it up between Magma, The Way of All Flesh and From Mars to Sirius, alongside Love, the breakdown from Remembrance and the outro of Terra Incognita. I was expecting their newer material with more clean singing to be less exciting and to get less of a reaction from myself and the crowd. Wrong, sucka! My favourite song of their two hour set was all of them. It should also be noted that there are not many bands who can have a backdrop of a starry night gently spinning away in the background whilst barrelling through a double bass drum beat and inciting a big ol’ moshpit.

I have been to see bands I like a lot and have sometimes come away thinking that was OK, or how the songs began to blur into one, or what I had for dinner, and it’s always a grubby feeling. At one point between songs frontman Joe Duplantier implored us to be in the moment. In witness to the heaviest matter of the universe, that was easy.

Yob Song by Song: Catharsis

catharsis-sheet-music

Music theory time.

Much like the intro to One, the second half of The Art of Dying, or the whole of Planet Caravan, each time the intro riff of Catharsis begins I sit there thinking happy thoughts about how that riff could play the whole song through and not tire on me.

It takes its time, beginning with what sounds like a guitar being knocked at with a wrench, before the first riff starts with single notes, the first of which is an A. It shifts up, in a manner best described as stately, to a longer lasting C (a minim, or half note, to be exact). This shift being that of three semitones (i.e. a minor third), this resting point of C sounds minor (a minor third has an unerringly downbeat sound – think the second note of Iron Man). When the riff moves on, in its own good time, it goes back down through the minor scale to G, the perfect seventh of A (think of the note the intro riff of Creeping Death drops to in the fourth bar). A perfect seventh normally sounds closer to minor than major, and with a bit of space it has a mysterious, suspended sound (a good example is the perfect seventh Flea rests on after the first flurry of notes in True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes). From here this procession continues down through the A minor scale in shorter notes (crochets/quarter notes) to a minim of F#, which, not being a note that belongs in the key of A minor (and as such is called an ‘accidental’), sounds dissonant. Subconsciously you expect to hear certain chords, especially if you’ve heard a lot of that kind of music (the 12 bar blues is the best known example of this) (I’m sure you can think of your own example). Subverting this expectation by playing less obvious note choices is the kind of move that can prick up ears.

From this F# the riff shifts down through the minor scale down to D, the perfect fourth, which, to my ears, has a slightly regal sound to it. After this the riff jumps back up by a fifth to alternate between two A notes an octave apart (think of the first two notes of Somewhere Over The Rainbow – that’s an octave jump), both lasting the length of minim. There’s no harmonic movement here, but the use of an octave keeps it moving at a surface level whilst also creating a suspended, hovering sensation, so that when the suspense is relieved by the downward movement of shorter notes (crochets) through A/G/F# and riff restarts in A, it comes to the ear as a pleasant surprise, rather than as a relief.

This initial use of single notes rather than chords presents the riff in its simplest form. When chords sucker punch in at 3:12 it harmonically expands. This expansion is a simple one: instead of introducing a more complex sound by throwing in the minor third or the perfect seventh (which are the other notes in the simplest kind of minor chord) for the first A chord, Yob play the fifth and the octave – a power chord – resulting in a more open, general sound. A power chord sweeps everything along with it. Sometimes subtlety can just fuck right off.

Despite this song being in a minor key, and the shift between the first A and C being that of the aforementioned minor third, when it lands on this C chord it sounds major. At first I attributed this to it being a C major chord. It’s actually a power chord; the fifth and the octave, in this context, sound major. Although the song is in a minor key, this use of a power chord follows harmonic rules, meaning that a C power chord fits into that key i.e. sounds right (is ‘diatonic’). The case is the same when the riff shifts back down to G, the aforementioned mysterious–sounding perfect seventh, Scheidt playing another power chord; again, harmonically correct.

I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually making this minor riff sound uplifting. In reality this riff doesn’t play the whole song through, into infinity and beyond. It plays through for four minutes and fifty–two seconds, or around a fifth of the whole song, before developing into a big descending section, before taking up a quieter variation of the same riff. Although in comparison to most songs this is still a long time, in the context of doom music this is not so much the case. Point being,  Yob don’t rely so much upon an element of extremity, whether that be length (Sleep), distortion (haarp), density (Bongripper) or dissonance (Indian) to do the heavy lifting (not that I don’t like the bands listed – just that they play to their strengths, which are those areas. haarp are sick). Yob’s appeal stands in channelling these elements into songwriting. I can imagine Scheidt sitting at home tinkering around with those five chords until they sounded just right, then playing with all of those effects pedals, eventually producing one of those minor riffs that are somehow uplifting.

After the descending section, the quieter variation of the main riff, along with the singing, is uplifting, to the point of foreshadowing Marrow (which we will come onto in good time). Indeed, the lyrics are it’s–all–part–of–the–rich–tapestry–of–life stuff:

All the fear
All the pain
Built within
The hope and the tears
To measure the worth

However, the second ‘verse’ ends with

The tyranny
Built upon our philosophies
Not for me
In solitude again

Once again, Scheidt looks to – or is compelled by – philosophical struggles. The riff begins to repeat on shorter cycles, gutteral roars entering a minute later with

All the rage
Uncontrolled
Useless treasures
Rotten waste
Shadows fall

The song takes a little break, and could have ended here, at the grand old age of 15 minutes and 30 seconds. When it re–enters it does so at a tempo of 40 bmp, which in the big book of Italian words for music is called, and I promise I’m not making this up, ‘grave’. And in this re–entrance it’s well and truly doomed out on us, everything drawn out – the chords, the screams, the crashes, all the rivets popping out of the hull as the ship goes down. The heavily distorted screams feel like very, very slow death metal, dragging out, droning on, digging in, and generally sounding like a bit of its namesake for Scheidt et al.

Ironically, given its title, for a song that starts out so pretty it sure does ends ugly, even with a spurt of energy at 19.25 into what I think of as a 6/8 Electric Wizard–style boogie (and who doesn’t love a boogie to The Wiz?). Whether this is cathartic, well, that’s up to whether you find catharsis in tension or release. I feel that a cleansing piece of music would have an inverted structure to that of Catharsis (which is something I’ll be looking for in the coming albums), but I guess some find the dissonance of styles like grind, black metal and sludge a release (personally, and even when sober, sludge has always inspired more of a hair of the dog feeling).

When I first listened through the whole of this album I thought that it contained few stand–out moments, especially compared to surrounding albums Elaborations of Carbon and Illusion of Motion. Respectively, it isn’t as raw and bluesy, nor as aggressive, and maybe it’s as straightforward as a Yob album ever got. Yet with time I’ve come to hear the character of Catharsis, and can understand why it’s a favourite for many. 

We’re overjoyed feeling all right in our skin
The apocalypse never felt so good

Next up: we’re done with Catharsis and onto opening number of The Illusion of MotionBall of Molten Lead.

The Winter of Our Content XVI: The Melancholy Spirit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In February 2015 I wrote that the transcendental qualities of Agalloch’s The Mantle left ‘the squabbles of the world behind to stargaze’, concluding that its melancholic and enlightened character made it ideal winter listening. Given their mighty reputation, I’d be surprised if any of Agalloch’s other albums ever disappointed, or could be described as feel good hits for the summer, but I’d be more surprised to discover that any of them captured the complex ideas surrounding the relationship between man and nature more completely. But Agalloch’s reputation as genre combiners and breakers is not a result of writing the same album over and over, and I’m interested in discovering what differences may lay between the two.

The cover art of Pale Folklore, Agalloch’s first full length album, is of tree bark. The inner gatefold art is of a snow–covered boreal forest against a darkening sky. Viking king Ragnar Lothbrok is quoted upon desiring a hero’s death and drinking ale in Valhalla in semi–comprehensible ye olde English font. The pagan vibe is strong with this one.

The first of the three part She Painted Fire Across The Skyline enters with a winter wind rushing by and a pedalling guitar line. An audacious, clever opening; Agalloch are symbolically walking into the wild. This opening reflects the variety of ideas on this album, which although more successful in some instances than others, is ultimately to its strength. The repeated use of delay on the guitars (particularly in The Melancholy Spirit), the cryptic, macabre soundscape of at the end of Hallways of Enchanted Ebony, and the great ascending and descending melody played on church bells in the third part of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline are the some of the successful ones. The clanging piano outro of Dead Winter Days and the gothic pomp of the strings and monk choir in The Misshapen Steed, not so much. That said, the operatic female singing in the first part of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline and As Embers Dress The Sky came across as hammy at first, but in context began to make sense and grew on me.

Although there are aspects of black metal – the tremolo picking, the rasped vocals – Pale Folklore is too clean overall to think of as just black metal, with heavy sections flowing into a single glassy guitar playing a 3/4 line several times (The Misshapen Steed, She Painted Fire Across The Skyline), a favourite move of guitarists Don Anderson and John Haughm. Although the 62 minutes of Pale Folklore predominantly consists of songs, it is easy to come to think of it as being just as much a soundscape, sustaining musical detail and richness amongst the coldness and sparsity. Given all this, and the arboreal packaging, lyrically Pale Folklore is relatively light on the pantheism, referring instead to nihilism, unrequited love, the fall of man from paradise, suicide, you know, all the good stuff. As a first album it is also impressive in its own right; although not always totally cohesive, and the fast sections sometimes indistinctive, the ideas and bold songwriting hint at the greatness which would begin with The Mantle three years later and continue through to final full–length album The Serpent & The Sphere in 2014.

I have grimly stalked the world in these times of coldness,  Reaper at my back, both Pale Folklore and The Mantle reverberating, and I await the end of times (read: have been listening to my headphones outside and hoping it snows). Pale Folklore doesn’t capture the complex and melancholic ideas of man and nature as completely as The Mantle, but they each exist in their own place on the musical spectrum. Where The Mantle is defined by its acoustic guitars, expansiveness and recurring riffs, Pale Folklore is faster and heavier, not as melancholic and more of a linear journey, one in which we walk into the wild.

 

Albums of 2016

 

the-end-is-nigh-ii

Todd Jones, frontman of Nails, has a reputation for being a laconic interviewee and sometimes just a grouchy soul. But a few words of his in an interview with Steel For Brains from July 2013 resonated with me this year:

That’s it. Metal has been written, and now all you have to do is study it. I mean, that’s it. The door is closed.  There’s no more original.  What’s done has been done, and that’s fucking it… it’s 2013 and metal’s done. Everything’s been done. Just pick up an instrument, take what you like from this and that, and that’s it. That’s all you can do. There’s no more being original. Everything’s been done.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with him, rather than finding this perspective a downer, within it I found a great sense of freedom; ‘Just pick up an instrument, take what you like from this and that, and that’s it. That’s all you can do.’ On a slightly less grumpy note, Jones added

…It’s kind of sad, but it’s also kind of a good thing, because I think more and more people just realize that hey, I’m just gonna do what I like. It’s already been done, but I’m gonna put my own spin on it, I guess…

Point being, if you listen to a lot of and read about a lot of music, it can feel as though there is an expectation to consume. Trying to keep up with this expectation in any sort of comprehensive manner is unsatisfactory, whether trawling through critically–acclaimed music you quickly find out you don’t actually like, or trying to listen to that which you do with any sense of depth. To precis, I stopped worrying about music I thought I might be missing out, and found myself putting each of the below choices on unbroken repeat a lot.

In the interest of not boring you, there will be no repeat submission of albums, but I do feel it necessary to let you know that from last year’s favourites, Blackhole’s Deadhearts and Wolfmother’s first album are still getting spun a lot (and I finally got around to buying Wolfmother’s second album…released in 2009).

2016 Releases

Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows (Relapse Records). ‘One of my lasting impressions of this album, despite the strong doom influence, is one of space. Bookending the album with plaintive, yearning country, a sound associated with rootlessness, renders upon a scope unfathomable a world of a breadth and nature that leaves those upon its surface scattered bearers of isolation. The best albums create their own worlds whilst coming to shape a listener’s view of this one, and the more I listen to Paradise Gallows the bigger the world becomes.’ Reviewed here.

 

Fallujah, Dreamless (Nuclear Blast). ‘In a case of being more than the sum of parts, Fallujah’s technicality serves to elevate the mood of Dreamless to that of something beyond the everyday.’ Reviewed here.

 

Black Tusk, Pillars of Ash (Relapse Records)‘… there are few bands greasy enough to contend with Black Tusk grooving in half–time’. Reviewed here.

 

Older Releases

Yob, everything.

Ramesses, Take The Curse (Ritual Productions)‘Lots of bands have made ugly music, but as the artwork would suggest, Ramesses have made something that feels sincere in its darkness. It’s not played to fit a style, as a throwback to 1970, nor as a love letter to Sabbath; it’s played for atmosphere. Ramesses didn’t use artwork of a crow up a tree in a graveyard or of themselves in front of an old castle wearing bell bottoms or of an evil–looking goat making a magick symbol (whilst wearing bell bottoms); they put the Nazis being tortured in their own concentration camps. The impression given is not that of just wanting to sound and look like Sabbath. They carry the flame on into darker places.’ Feature piece here.

 

Mose GiganticusGifthorse (Relapse Records). ‘… a vast power, indifferent and unfathomable, shapes Gift Horse’s lyrics and is alluded to in the swirl of chugging guitars, slithering electronics and vocals that alter between booming deity and vocoder yowl…’ Feature piece here.

 

KylesaSpiral Shadow (Seasons of Mist). Balancing lightness and heaviness, psychedelia and songcraft, once past the awesomeness of the obvious tracks – Tired Climb and Don’t Look Back – and onto the wooz of Drop Out, the contemplation and crunch of Distance Closing In, the Indian melodies of To Forget, it becomes obvious that is an album of some greatness, setting out for the sunset with the sprawl of Dust.

 

Tom Waits, Heart of Saturday Night (Asylum Records). I listened to Small Change, Closing Time and Nighthawks at The Diner a lot as well, but Small Change wins on the strength of its ballads, particularly San Diego Serenade, Shiver Me Timbers and Please Call Me Baby. Although not jazz and not as jazzy as Small Change, piano, sax and double bass still predominate underneath Wait’s lots–of–whisky vocals, calling the hard–living side of that genre to mind. Listen to the excellent Song by Song podcast, covering each song in turn, here.

Jimmy Eat World, Futures (Interscope Records). Full of top–of–the–world riffs.

Anti–Flag, For Blood and Empire (RCA Records). I used to think this band was the definite of mediocre pop–punk, but the 14 tracks of For Blood and Empire have been on loop for the last eight months.

Hang The Bastard, 2009 – 2012 (Holy Roar Records). The platonic ideal of metal and hardcore.

 

Home Ties, Detours (self–released). The platonic ideal of hardcore and metal.

 

Agalloch, Pale Folklore (The End Records). Although not entirely cohesive, Pale Folklore is full of great ideas and creative song structures and possesses the scope of a long winter. Feature piece coming up soon(ish).

Daitro, Laissez Vivre Les Squelettes. “Hey, want to form a really good, cathartic heavy band and remain obscure only because the only music scene is the one we’ll create before breaking up?”

 

Eyehategod, Take As Needed For Pain. Despite Eyehategod’s reputation preceding them, I hadn’t heard any of their material before Take As Needed For Pain, but found that the music lived up to and beyond the talk. I particularly enjoy how vocalist Mike IX Williams identifiably sings words (and pretty good ones at that), but most of the time it’s pretty much impossible to actually hear which words in particular.