Welcome to our new monthly post, Editors’ Picks! In the recent two years, our editorial body has grown quite a bit: from basically two guys running everything, we now have around seven people managing the blog in an editorial capacity, including two (count ’em, two!) Editors in Chief. We thought we’d harness that unique body of editors and use their over-reaching perspective to shed light on specific releases each month. These might be releases we’ve already covered, stuff we haven’t even mentioned once or somewhere in between; the idea is to accentuate great metal each month, helping you to sift out the truly great from the immense body of work that is released each month. Now, we’re going to use the term month here loosely: if it’s great and it came out on December 25th, we’re not going to be nitpickers and keep it off our list.
The way it works is simple: each editor gets to pick one album released in January (or in its proximity, as we just said). We write short pieces about them and link you to the album, allowing you to check it out yourselves. There’s no genre restrictions: expect to see some gnarly stuff on here as most of our editors have a very wide range of musical appreciation. Without further ado, let’s dig in into this month’s offering!
Latitudes – Old Sunlight [January 22nd, Debemur Morti Productions]
What do you get when you strip down a person’s heart and record the bloody, weeping palpitations? Probably this album. Old Sunlight is post-metal in its most distilled, impactful form. It leans on smart compositions to catch its listener off guard and hit them with full force when they’re flat-footed, cleaving right to the core of them. This is best exemplified by the puissant transition from the first to the second track: “Ordalian” ends with a climax and its massive riffs are expected to carry on well into its predecessor. It’s original theme is repeated several times, in true post-metal fashion, before finally unfurling to its full compositional potential, closing off the track with an explosive and fulfilling catharsis.
However, “Body Within a Body” immediately introduces heart breaking vocals. How heart breaking? Just listen to them and try not to cry. From there on, the album continues to vary its swings, hitting with a one-two combo that’s impossible to defend against. It utilizes basic tools of post-metal but does so with a grace and elegance that few albums, let alone bands, ever achieve. By its end, you’re left feeling bereft, needing more, yearning for closure. That’s how post-metal should end, with an echo that leaves you empty handed but filled to the brim. The rest of the album picks up on these themes, further delivering the sense of desperation and absolute defeat that the first two tracks radiate. By the time that “Quandary” abruptly ends, with once more ephemeral vocals, you’ll be left downright bereft and confused.
David Bowie – Blackstar [January 8th, ISO Records]
With the amount of ink spilled over this album in the wake of David Bowie’s shocking death earlier this month (including our own review from Scott, which is legit my favorite piece I’ve read on the album anywhere), there really is nothing interesting or illuminating I can say about Blackstar that hasn’t been said multiple times already. This album is just a beautiful mystery wrapped in an enigma. Bowie went out at the top of his game, able to assemble so many disparate musical elements into a package that is so dense and complex and yet so warm, so emotional, and so immediate. The melodies are so memorable, and more importantly, the emotions he’s communicating – a kind of wistful look at the scope of life and creativity that is always fitful and yearning for more but ultimately content in what it’s accomplished – are so gripping and universally understandable that it shines through like a beacon in spite of the more musically and lyrically-cryptic aspects of the album.
The only other thing I want to add about this piece of music (particularly in light of my article from last week) is how much this thing is a masterclass in how to incorporate sax in rock well. As a lifelong sax player himself, Bowie has always had a great ear for using the instrument brilliantly in his music, but he really kicked it up a notch on Blackstar. The soulful playing of Donny McCaslin throughout serves as the perfect emotional compliment or counterpoint to Bowie, whether it’s the mysterious and vaguely exotic melodies and textures of the title track, the raucous and poppy skronking of “‘Tis A Pity She Was A Whore,” or the emotionally-charged and pensive solo in “Dollar Days.” This is truly an album that was significantly improved by the use of the instrument, and I can’t imagine it existing without it.
Shadow of Intent – Primordial [January 10th, Self Released]
Who are Shadow of Intent and what are they doing on this list? Well, that mirrors the surprise I experienced when I first heard them, as I wasn’t expecting much when I pressed play on what looked to be a generic deathcore song. Thankfully I was wrong in the best way possible! Shadow of Intent are a technical death metal/deathcore duo from Connecticut. Honestly, that’s a pretty rote description given how amazing these guys sound. With ripping melodic leads, all-encompassing synths that make every song extremely epic, fast, snappy vocals and a firm grasp on songwriting, Shadow of Intent have stealthily created one of the best tech death albums in recent memory. They’ve successfully channeled Archspire’s blazing fast delivery and melodic bent and the memorable compositional skills of bands ranging from Within the Ruins to Dimmu Borgir and The Black Dahlia Murder and brought it all together in a tight, easily appreciable framework. This hearkens back to the late 00s/early 10s where one could browse random deathcore blogs and discover a no-name band that was doing extremely interesting things with their sound – and it’s good to feel that sense of wonder again.
Lycus – Chasms [January 15th, Relapse Records]
I must preface my praise of Lycus’ Relapse debut Chasms (their second overall) by admitting that I’m fairly sophomoric when it comes to my experience with doom at large, only in recent years coming to really appreciate the genre outside of, you know, Black Sabbath and Ghost. You can be sure that I’m making my way into murkier waters by the day with my personal collection expanding to include releases from Rwake, Windhand, Sunn O))), and more, but it is still far from my genre of preference. Funeral doom in particular is fairly impenetrable to newcomers and casual listeners as well due to its tediously slow compositions and depressive (and oppressive) nature. With this in mind, make what you will of my endorsement of Chasms as a very early contender for Album of the Year for 2016.
What makes Chasms such an engaging record with crossover appeal is its diversity and passion. Yes, this record is massive and dense with four tracks averaging at about 10-minutes apiece, but Lycus shifts through post, death, doom, and black metal genres so fluidly and naturally, that there’s little chance for fatigue to set in. What’s more is the band’s appreciation for melody and allowing songs to sway in and out of melancholic reverie. In order to truly appreciate darkness, you must have light, and the atmospheric progressions, choral vocal style, and guitar melodies make Chasms’ more crushing moments that much more devastating. Honestly, you’ll have a hard time finding music that is this depressing so wonderful.
Ulver – ATCGLVLSSCAP [January 22nd, Jester Records]
Okay, first off, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: that title is an acronym for the different astrological signs (Aries, Taurus, Cancer, Gemini, etc). But truly, if any title has ever perfectly fit an album, it’s this. Ulver’s newest release is a monolith of music, containing around 80 minutes of various live and studio improvisation repurposed into tracks, two thirds of which, according to the album’s bandcamp description, has never been heard before; the title lets you know exactly what sort of complicated, messy-yet-intentionally-so sort of chaos a listener is getting themselves into.
Drone isn’t exactly a genre known for its accessibility, but on ATCGLVLSSCAP, Ulver has managed to make a record that’s about as easily digestible as it comes in this genre. Relying heavily on tracks that eschew the genre’s typical build-drift-build-drift-build fare in favor of tracks that simply build and never stop building, every song starts off about as barebones as it gets and works itself up into a beautiful, lush wall of sound over its runtime. It’s a fantastic exercise in how to take a genre known for its impenetrable oddities and idiosyncrasies, and on top of that, it’s an amazing album to boot.
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger [January 22nd, Drag City]
There’s really no good reason that Emotional Mugger is my introduction to Ty Segall’s music. Seriously, since I began actively paying attention to new music in high school, he’s released five albums that I could’ve easily given a spin, not including side projects. So with a new year, a fresh “Albums to Spin” list and – surprise surprise – a new Ty record, I decided to finally try a taste of the prolific guitarist’s take on rock. But I had no idea what to expect beyond that; throughout each of his brief album cycles, I’ve seen nearly every rock prefix slapped onto Ty’s music. I wasn’t sure what flavor of lo-fi psychedelic alternative indie garage punk Ty would be focusing on this time, but I certainly wasn’t expecting the helping that he immediately jammed into my ears as soon as “Squealer” started.
I’m not sure what impresses me more about Emotional Mugger: the amount of sounds and styles Ty crams into forty minutes or the fact he melds them together so seamlessly. Massive, distorted guitar riffs play the most bastardized renditions of sixties psychedelia possible, all while surrounded by walls of noise and Ty’s vocal cadence wobbling between pseudo-philosophical and emotionally cataclysmic acid trips. But what’s most intriguing about Emotional Mugger is Ty’s odd writing style; barely any riff on the record plays out as you envision it will, and it never feels quite right as the song progresses either. It’s like the soundtrack to a randomly sped up and slowed down children’s cartoon that’s been colored in with abrasive neon paint by Jackson Pollock. If this sounds anything like Ty’s previous records, then I feel like a massive idiot for sleeping on his discography for as long as I have, a mistake that I intend on rectifying after Emotional Mugger finishes playing for the umpteenth time.
Dissona – Paleopneumatic [January 15th, Self-Released]
Following up a debut album is often a difficult task. What direction do you take as an artist? As a unit? Who does the onus fall upon when crafting a collaborative work and, moreover, who takes responsibility if the final product is anything less than perceptively perfect? Difficult, vague questions to pose, even more difficult to answer. Yet, after four years of labor and toil, Chicagoland progressive act Dissona have risen above an already high bar with their sophomore album, Paleopneumatic.
Paleopneumatic is a raw, emotional, tumultuous experience from beginning to end. A baring of a collective soul driven from the most primal of forces. Comprised of all the best parts of progressive metal with tinges of power metal and black metal, Dissona have created a vehicle for an interesting and engaging ride that spans a personal lifetime or parallels the every being of life itself.
Big things are on the horizon for Dissona. The progressive world just needs to wake up and take notice of these crude energies refined as alluring progressive metal.