This list almost didn’t get made, but I ended up coming up with so much stuff during the last few weeks of November and the first few weeks of December that I had to give a yell to a few of these that might have otherwise flown under your radar…
In alphabetical order:
Bridesmaid, Breakfast at Riffany’s (Bandcamp)
If you’re familiar with Columbus, OH’s most infamous doom band, you know exactly what to expect from their new release. If you’re not, you should be; every Bridesmaid release is a killer, though I must admit their self-titled debut is still my favorite of the bunch (“The Lions of Pharaoh Shall Guard Its Gates” is the stuff dreams are made of, in my opinion). Not to take anything away from Breakfast at Riffany‘s, which has all the hallmarks of a great Bridesmaid album—groove-laden drumming, twin-bass artistry that manages to be both catchy and subtly complex while still getting your booty shaking, wordplay that walks that thin line between witty and adolescent.These guys know how to make a killer album, and once again, they did.
Gris, À L’Âme Enflammée, L’Âme Constellée… (Sepulchral Productions)
I’ve had three different people tell me over the past year I need to check out a black metal band from Montreal called Niflheim, but I never got round to it. It is completely coincidence that this, which started popping up on best of 2013 lists a couple of months ago, hit my inbox. I didn’t realize until yesterday, when I looked them up on discogs, that it’s the same band and they just changed their name. And those folks were right, if Niflheim sounds anything like Gris; this is exactly the type of black metal I go for, epic-length tracks with lots of technical guitar work that still manages to avoid sounding flashy or shreddy. There’s nothing here that’s going to have your black-metal-hating friends suddenly say “wow, I get it now!” when you play this for them, but if you’re already into the scene, this is great stuff, black-metal convention honed to as fine a point as I’ve heard recently. I love this.
You can preview the full (almost ninety-minute!) album on Youtube.
The Haxan Cloak, Excavation (Tri Angle)
I have read many reviews of this album over the last couple of weeks, and they all say the same damn thing, and every time I sit down to try and write something about it, I end up saying it all over again. And I’m going to stop trying to go for originality on this one because what everyone else is saying really does bear repeating. It’s so rare for someone from the wider (read: more commercial) ambient world, especially someone on a label more known for metal, to really grok dark ambient the way that the masters of dark ambient do, the people like Steel Hook Prostheses and Megaptera and Murderous Vision. But The Haxan Cloak nails it. With every track on this impeccable album, he nails it. This is not something you want to listen to whilst alone in a dark room if you are the kind of person who is easily scared. It’s delicious.
Julia Holter, Loud City Song (Domino)
Ironically, listening to Loud City Song‘s main effect on me was making me realize that I was incorrect in demoting Ekstasis, Holter’s 2012 release, from the 10-best list to the 10 Songs list. (I have since rectified that error.) And because of that, I fully expect Loud City Song to similarly grow on me as we get farther into 2014—but this one is starting from a position of slightly higher regard than Ekstasis did. It’s got that same mix of eclectic source material and Holter-style weirdness to it that always puts me in mind of Laurie Anderson’s more accessible stuff from the late eighties, but Anderson, for all that she was regularly this engaging, never got this catchy; this is intellectual rock for people who wouldn’t necessarily think of themselves as intellectuals.
Kylesa, Ultraviolet (Season of Mist)
Kylesa experiment with something brand-spankin’ new on their sixth album: actually singing lyrics instead of shouting them. It’s a major new direction for one of the most accessible tech bands on the planet, and a path I, for one, hope they choose to follow farther; songs like “Grounded” should by rights win them a legion of new fans. Kylesa have always been fantastic, but as they get older, they are aging gracefully; this is easily as good as my favorite of their previous works (Time Will Fuse Its Worth).
Living Sacrifice, Ghost Thief (Solid State)
I dabbled in born-again-ism back in the eighties, which is when most of the Contemporary Christian Music in my collection found its way there (including one of Fenriz’ favorite bands, Stryper. Go figure). I still occasionally dabble in CCM when something interesting hits my radar; I discovered Tortured Conscience seven or eight years ago, and now there’s Living Sacrifice. I’m not sure they’d be considered technical death by people who play guitars (when not beating computers I’m a drummer), but they sound like it to me. Catchy, hooky, and very, very heavy. This is Christian music that will bang your head FOR you.
mhz_, 03-19-2013 II (Centipede Farm)
mhz_’s last album, S-Rated, was a solid chunk of ambient minimalism that I liked a great deal. It certainly did not prepare me for this HNW monstrosity. It’s loud and ugly and awkward and all kinds of fun; in short, it’s everything a good, solid noise release should be, and it telegraphs to the world that mhz_ are just as good at harsh as they are at ambient. These guys are rapidly becoming one of my favorite new(-ish) bands.
Gary Numan, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind) (Mortal)
Gary Numan is celebrating his thirty-seventh year in the music business in 2013—and he has done it by releasing his best album since 1979’s The Pleasure Principle, which featured “Cars”, the one song most Americans know of Numan’s prodigious output. As the title of the album should tell you, this is leagues away from the cold, computerized, clinical Pleasure Principle/Tubeway Army sound; a work this personal demands an intimacy and richness that Splinter fulfills in spades. This is still recognizably new wave (though no longer with capitals), and also recognizably goth, in that Numan has internalized many of the bands who were directly inspired by his music in the eighties and nineties. Some bands do this and end up sounding like parodies of themselves (insert the name of every early-nineties industrial band who survived past 2000 here). Numan, a prodigious talent perhaps more undeserving of the one-hit-winder moniker than any other artist, knew when it was time to move on, and if that lost him legions of his old fans, so what? He knew there was something better on the horizon. Guess what? He found it.
If the album cover wasn’t creepy enough for you, check out the video for “Love Hurt Bleed”.
Skin Graft, Crippling (self-released)
I’m not sure how many copies of this Wyatt made, and whether he actually sold any of them (every one I know of was given to a friend), but if he never actually marketed this bad boy, he missed out on a golden opportunity, and so did you. I have been fascinated with the album-length noise track since Merzbow released Akasha Gulva in 1996 (still in my top five favorite Merzbow releases ever). CDs have increased capacity these days, so “album-length track” can get up to almost eighty minutes. “Crippling” runs just shy of 77, and like most epic-length noise pieces, it is defined not by the ear-hammering high-pitched grinding noise that is almost a Skin Graft trademark, but by the shifting layers of nastiness underneath. I have been talking the last couple of years (viz. Sowell on last year’s ten best) about how exciting the changes are in the Skin Graft sound. But Crippling is straight-up old-school jack you up against the wall and tear your face off Wyatt Howland-style powerelectronics, and it shreds.
Wuzor, Wumuthafuckingzor (Mortville)
I am ashamed to admit that before Andy put this out and started pushing it, I had never heard of Wuzor, a short-lived band from the early 2000s about whom I know basically nothing (thanks a lot, discogs!). If you follow that bandcamp link in the title, there’s a good, and much more complete, description than this, but what always come to mind when I listen to it is “the unholy bastard offspring of an unspeakable mating between Clutch and Isis”. It’s definitely got that stone-drone feel to it, with the almost funky drumming that underpins all of the best bands that do this kind of thing, but there is a real feeling of…passion?…about it that’s missing from a lot of stoner rock bands these days. If you, too, missed Wuzor the first time around, now’s your chance to discover them. You want to.