Post-rock is dead! Post-rock is dying! Post-rock never happened! You’ve probably heard all three of these things (OK, probably not the last one) over the past few years. In a way, those are accurate statements but only if you have a very narrow definition of what post-rock is. If you’re looking only at “crescendo core” bands, or what is known as the third wave of post-rock, it is most definitely either dead or showing extreme signs of pre-death mortification (I am surprised to find that this is totally a word). Those kinds of bands, which iterated upon the second wave ad nauseam, seem to have mostly worn out their welcome, outside of fanatic circles. Their structures are tired, almost a laughing stock, their aesthetics are worn out and obvious, and it doesn’t seem like their music has anything new left to offer.
But, luckily for us, post-rock is much more than just those bands. To start with, many bands within that “wave” (like yndi halda or 65daysofstastic) have taken a hard look at their formula and shifted things around. Whether by adding vocals and changing their track structure (like yndi halda have done) or by embarking from the shores of post-rock into increasingly electronic and weird territory (like 65dos have done), these bands have found life after death within the post-rock genre and its adjacent spaces. But beyond these bands, many, many younger bands are in operation today, redefining what it means to make post-rock in its afterlife. They blend jazz, electronic influences, emo, progressive metal, and more to breathe new life into post-rock and expand the palette of sounds and ideas that the genre is associated with.
And so, for our Post Rock Post review of 2018, we chose to focus on some of these new trends and ideas being wielded across the globe. That last part is important; in 2018, post-rock remains a fascinatingly global phenomenon; bands from Europe, the United States, Australia the UK and more are all represented in this post and, when taking the genre as a whole this year, many more countries can be added to the list. But more importantly, we want to take a look at the new ways and modes which have been introduced to post-rock in the past few years and how some of them culminated in 2018, creating new social groups, festivals, bands, albums, and sounds. As the cliche goes, post-rock is dead! Long live post-rock.
“Ok So It’s Not Just A 2018 Thing But Here We Are”: The Rise of Doomgaze
We all should have seen this coming, and, well some of us did, that’s why I’m here talking about it. I could spend 10,000 words spanning eras to uncover the genesis of what is now loosely referred to as “doomgaze,” but only a small fraction of our dear readers really want that (and maybe even that phrasing is generous). So I’ll start with a clear and obvious nexus point: the release of This Will Destroy You’s Tunnel Blanket in 2011. That record in many ways stemmed from the band being peeved about their post-rock labeling.
Eager to escape what they viewed as the dangerous trappings of the genre, they emerged with a record that sharply divided listeners – it was dense and challenging and almost felt anti-melody, the near-polar opposite of what their previous material presented. But the record had its progressive-thinking champions and as time has worn on it wouldn’t be unrealistic to suggest that many view Tunnel Blanket as their greatest work; even if you disagree with that assessment it is still probably their most important in terms of the impact it’s had going forward. It’s possible that TWDY is super annoyed by the fact that their anti-genre record helped create a new genre, but that’s the price you pay for being good at what you do I suppose.
So, doomgaze isn’t exactly a 2018 thing, but it does feel like we’ve been slowly building to this point where the genre is about to hit its stride and enter a glory-days period. The last few years have seen a steady increase in bands that seem to have grown out of Tunnel Blanket – some more directly referencing (A Film In Color, Fourteen Nights At Sea, GENA, Through A Glass, Darkly), others tweaking the formula a little more to their own whims (Glasir, Sound Architects, From Oceans To Autumn, Dead Sun). There are bands who have come and gone but delivered some really brilliant material (like Pallow, who hung it up earlier this year after their spectacular 2017 release Blueprints for an Empty Vessel). There are others who have even attained some pretty strong recognition, at least in niche and critical circles (Spotlights, SOM, Planning For Burial), and more importantly, one band, Holy Fawn, who released a juggernaut album in 2018 that may be the year’s best and is certainly one of the most unique and intriguing.
Looking forward, 2019 looks to be another banner year – there is new material looming from artists like Palehorse/Palerider (a 2017 critical darling), Outlander (one of the most exciting young bands in post-adjacent genres) and possibly Of the Vine (whose 2015 masterpiece East-the-Water is criminally underrated to this day, the lushest and beautiful example of what doomgaze could be extrapolated to). Of course, you still have This Will Destroy You out there crafting their style, and while 2018 wasn’t their greatest year on record, their second effort New Others Part Two brought some pretty invigorating new material to the table. It shouldn’t be surprising that we are seeing this trend – as shoegaze, doom and post-rock are all experiencing periods of renaissance it only makes sense that their paths should intertwine. The resulting blend, in my estimation, marks the most exciting current direction for “post” music, so we should all be watching carefully to see what the new year brings.
Here are my Top 10 Post-Rock Records for 2018. There are a ton of other records that are more than worth your time as well, but these are the ones that made the greatest impact on me this year:
- Trna – Earthcult
- There’s A Light – A Long Lost Silence
- Coastlands – The Further Still
- Spurv – Myra
- Kaschalot – Whale Songs
- The Sun Burns Bright – Through Dusk, Came the Light
- girih – Eigengrau
- Isles – Remnants
- Winter Dust – Sense By Erosion
- Man Mountain – Infinity Mirror
Just as an aside, based only upon the first few months of the 2019 slate I believe it’s going to be one of the better years on record for post-rock. The first quarter of 2019 alone boasts impending releases from The End of the Ocean, Heron, Outlander, Seeress and Old Solar, all of which I’ve heard, all of which are sheer fire. There’s also some more intriguing genre-mashing to keep an eye on, as Italy’s Lazybones Flame Kids are set to come back with more of their special brand of circa-early-aughts Midwestern American emo-laced post-rock for those listeners who would lose their minds over a show lineup featuring Appleseed Cast, American Football and Explosions in the Sky. Then there are the big boys back in action – Russian Circles, Mono, Caspian and more should be entering new album cycles sometime during the year. All I’m sayin’, hold onto your butts.
And Now, With Screaming
To me, very few different genres fit together as well as post-rock and screamo. Often referred to now as the less-bastardized but kind of silly, ‘skramz’, screamo has been around for about as long as post-rock, dating back to the early 90s. A portmanteau of “emo” and “scream”, screamo like other styles of hardcore and metal uses harsh vocals to accentuate mood and a connection to the listener that clean singing and instrumentation alone sometimes cannot achieve. While not for everyone, it’s there’s just something about a vocalist screaming his heart out at you to already heart-wrenching instrumentation that can cut to your deepest core and add even more emotional depth. Many older and influential screamo bands like City of Caterpillar were adept at writing vast instrumental post-rock passages themselves with screamed vocals used just when necessary, to heighten and elevate a crescendo to a greater level of tension and catharsis. It is this augmentation of that classic post-rock element that screamo blends so perfectly with, and 2018 showed a wide variety of bands continuing to incorporate the two in a diverse manner.
My personal album of the year answered a question that probably wasn’t asked soon enough, “okay but what if Godspeed You! Black Emperor had screaming?” Lowering this album to that question doesn’t quite do Respire’s incredible Dénouement justice, but it gets across their sound simply enough. Respire masterfully utilize a similar range of instruments as their fellow Canadians into their very orchestral post-rock sound, from trumpets, trombones and saxophone, to violins, violas and glockenspiels. Seeing this band perform live as a 9-piece was also my concert of the year and I can’t recommend seeing them enough if you get the chance. Screamo and post-rock is a hybrid that has been in many ways paralleled by the blend of shoegaze and black metal into blackgaze. The tonal similarities of many screamo and black metal vocalists are undeniable to the point where it’s debated among music nerds whether certain bands or albums should fall into one or the other. This take at blending more orchestral post-rock with black metal (and screamo) however, is unlike anything I’ve heard accomplished in the genre, and serves as beacon of optimism for multiple genres at once that have been craving creativity.
Like many extreme metal subgenres, screamo is one whose sound can at times benefit from intentionally “rough around the edges” production values. Similar to the appeal of the approach that their edgy cousin black metal often takes, the emotive harshness of the vocals can compliment a harsher sounding product. The debut from Infant Island exploits this with warm, noisy guitar tones and soaring melodies that also shows a lot of influence from 80s shoegaze. Making up the ‘gaze’ in ‘blackgaze’, the genre is obviously an integral part of that growing movement and I anticipate seeing more of it incorporated into modern ‘post-screamo’ as well.
Another of this year’s highlights came from Sweden’s Young Mountain, who blend both harsh and clean vocals into a dynamic range of darker atmospheric hardcore, and more emo aligned crescendo-driven post-rock. Lost Tree is sort of an amalgamation of every way these genres can be combined, with the lines of blackgaze, screamo, emo, and post-rock all being blurred and intertwined. The album closer however brings you back and in exemplary manner shows why post-rock and screamo work so well, with a simple but beautifully depressing post-rock track which is augmented on an emotional level by the most sincere of screams. The lyrics speak of chasing a speck of light; that light has been harnessed by this new wave of post-screamo bands pushing for something more.
Here are 10 of my favourite post- releases from this year. Outside of Respire there were not a ton that I would say are “classics”, but all of these are worth your time.
- Respire – Dénouement
- Autumn Creatures – Funeral Garden
- Jean Jean – Froidpierre
- MØL – Jord
- Talons – We All Know
- Young Mountain – Lost Tree
- Coastlands – The Further Still
- Kaschalot – Whale Songs
- Spurv – Myra
- Tides of Man – Every Nothing
New Prog, Not Nu-Prog: How 2018 Rang In Instrumental Prog’s New Bannermen
The past decade in technically-focused instrumental metal, more generically lumped under the umbrella of instrumental prog, has been defined by two movements/waves that formed somewhat independently of each other but also overlapped heavily. Growing out of the burgeoning “djent” movement of the late aughts, Tosin Abasi almost single-handedly set the pace and direction of the genre for years with 2009’s Animals As Leaders, a still deeply impressive and successful album of many-stringed acrobatics and low-end jackhammering. It was so successful, in fact, that it led to an explosion of like-minded eight-string enthusiasts to produce a whole lot of music for the next few years that would fit in with AaL and other djent-y bands (many of whom were part of Sumerian’s roster at the time). Some of it was decent, and some even rose above the fray to produce some outstanding work (Pomegranate Tiger certainly comes to mind). But as with any massive and trendy wave, djent and djent-influenced instrumental prog pretty quickly fell upon the ouroboros of its own tropes and became as much a running joke and cliche as a viable sub-genre.
Running somewhat parallel to the djent scene while also certainly in part growing out of it came a different twist on the instrumental prog sound that was less focused on low-end heaviness and more on more positive, occasionally dreamier vibes while still maintaining the level of slick technicality and crisp production that defined their djent-y cousins. Less influenced by the heavier and more discordant sounds of Meshuggah and more of the more traditional prog of Dream Theater (as well as the new-age leanings of post-reunion Cynic), this wave of bands didn’t have any definitive beginning (though looking back now it’s easy to see how bands like Scale the Summit were early progenitors of this sound before it had a name) but would come to dominate instrumental prog in the 2010s. I am, of course, speaking of nu-prog, which encompasses a group of bands and artists including CHON, Polyphia, Intervals (once Aaron Marshall turned it into a solo project at least), and many, many more. I’m not really going to hide our biases here. We don’t have a particularly fond view of nu-prog as a whole and find the vast majority of the music that comes out of it to be rather hollow and lacking much in the way of compelling compositional substance beyond its sleek and expensive-sounding exterior. There are, of course, exceptions, namely Plini, who we have gone out of our way time and time again to explain what sets his work apart.
All of this is to say though that the past decade has seen some rather large explosions in the instrumental prog genre, but not a whole lot of it has felt like it has had much in the way of staying power. Both djent and nu-prog fell victim to their worst tendencies rather quickly, ushering in leagues of trend-hopping musicians (not to mention labels and pr who were more than eager to sell them) looking to capitalize off of the immense hype of their respective waves. 2018 has felt different though. While there certainly isn’t anything resembling a cohesive single wave of musicians and bands offering a singular alternative to the current fare, it also offered up possibly the strongest selection of bands all working in new and exciting directions within instrumental prog, post-metal, jazz/metal fusion, and more.
At the forefront of this is most certainly LA’s Night Verses and their mammoth album From the Gallery of Sleep. Adding themselves to the exceedingly small list of bands who lost their vocalist mid-stream and successfully made the transition to instrumental-only, Night Verses in their reincarnated full-length debut took a bunch of us here completely by surprise to release one of the best albums of the year across all genres. The band certainly had shown flashes of instrumental brilliance in their earlier, more hardcore-leaning iteration, but From the Gallery of Sleep so completely elevates their game in every single way it is difficult to imagine the group operating as anything but a well-oiled instrumental riff machine. It’s plenty heavy and borrows some aspects and influence from the likes of AaL, PomTig, and others who grew out of the djent wave, but it’s pretty much entirely free of the predictable compositional cliches that litter much of the music of their peers.
Part of that perhaps is due to the prominence of drummer Aric Improta, who serves as the foundational lynchpin of the trio and fills every nook and cranny with meaty grooves and fills. The music and compositions of Gallery simply move and flow in a way that is leagues beyond most of the rest of their peers who seem to build songs off of a riff they like and don’t seem to do too much beyond it. And as I wrote earlier in the year on it, the album succeeds in large part because of the songs and moments where the band know to show restraint and lean into sparser, dreamier, and more traditional post-metal territory. Night Verses and Gallery point to a clear path forward out of instrumental prog’s indulgent malaise, and it’s simply a joy and thrill to experience.
Following in a similar track was the sophomore release from the UK’s Toska in Fire by the Silos. Though generally more subdued than Night Verses, the album is equally notable for its use of space and lengthier compositions to actually build a greater whole. The songs on Silos are highly lyrical, featuring impactful leads, and plenty of moments of fire and fury alongside its more measured pace. This makes sense given that it’s a concept album based around a futuristic sci-fi dystopian story. Part of the trends in nu-prog and other instrumental prog albums of late has seemingly been to eschew longer tracks and albums to produce more easily-digestible songs. Prog most definitely has a long history of bloat and excess, and instrumental prog is no stranger to that. But where many recent albums come short and bands like Toska succeed is precisely in being able to construct an album of music that is more than any given moment or riff. Silos is an album that welcomes you in and invites you to take a long view while doing plenty to captivate on a moment-to-moment basis.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Australia’s Tangled Thoughts of Leaving continued to do their very own thing separate from just about anyone else. Thankfully that thing just so happens to be an incredible blend of post-metal, prog, drone, and plenty else. No Tether finds the group continuing the bold and heterodox path they’ve been on for about a decade now, though most closely furthering the heavier and more drone/improv-driven material from 2015’s Yield To Despair. Though probably the least similar to the other bands I’ve listed here, TToL nonetheless represent a drastically different and vitally important alternate path from the bulk of progressive-leaning instrumental metal out there. At times technically dazzling, most times sonically dense, and almost always emotionally crushing, No Tether is further proof that the possibilities for instrumental metal are limitless and need not follow any single path.
Rounding out the year in impressive instrumental prog are two bands who used jazz technicality to completely elevate and transform their work. While both djent and nu-prog have employed jazz techniques and chords to offer a certain flavor or mood to their work – nu-prog in particular has a penchant for the brightness of jazzy major 7 chords – much of it has been more surface-level than meaningful. For Boston’s Hago and Chicago’s Monobody though, jazz fusion is utterly integral to the very core of their work. On their debut self-titled album, Hago don’t stray remarkably far from the djent-y tree (even going so far as to refer to themselves as “falafel djent”), but they take the familiar touchstones of that music and infuse it with an incredibly fascinating level of jazz technicality, middle eastern tradition, and cosmic sci-fi weirdness. Monobody, on the other hand, approach things from a more Chicago-style jazzy math rock angle but on their sophomore full-length Raytracing aren’t afraid to get heavy or really do anything. It’s such a wide-ranging explosion of head-spinning riffs, counter-riffs, and counter-counter-riffs that probably the most remarkable thing about it is just how easy it is to listen to.
As already mentioned, there isn’t a whole lot tying this group of bands all together under one sound other than them being all instrumental, being heavy, and employing a wide range of technical performance and compositions. There’s no single throughline that can form a cohesive narrative as the “next big thing” in instrumental prog. But that’s not the point. At a time when the range of bands within this sub-genre has never felt more contracted and lifeless, 2018 challenged the status quo and breathed some necessary life into the scene. Nu-prog will likely not be going anywhere in 2019, but with any luck we’ll be seeing plenty more innovative bands pushing instrumental prog in incredible and disparate directions.
Right, and here are my top post-y albums of all stripes from the year. Given everything I just wrote probably the less said the better other than listen to all of these!
- Monobody – Raytracing
- Holy Fawn – Death Spells
- Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – No Tether
- Night Verses – From the Gallery of Sleep
- Hago – Hago
- Respire – Dénouement
- Reformat – The Singularity
- Flora – The Bottom
- Toska – Fire By the Silos
- 1099 – Blindpassasjer
The Manifest Destiny of the New Wave of American Post Rock
Watching micro-scenes come to life is a true pleasure. Luckily, we here at Heavy Blog are well positioned to do so; we’re large enough that lots of rivulets flow to us but not so big that they get lost in the roar of conducting our daily business. We’ve had the pleasure of being around to see the rise of several of these scenes and, if you’ve been paying attention to Post Rock Post at all in the past year or so, you’ll know that it’s been happening again. What I’m alluding to is, of course, the fruition of a multi-year process; we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that these micro-scenes spring up when we first observe. Instead, they let themselves become known when they’ve amassed enough local followers, alliances, and bands to amplify their signal and reach across into the ether and grab our attention.
This is certainly the case with what we’ve precariously dubbed the “New Wave of American post-rock” scene. Back when we started hearing about this scene (or, rather, noticing the connections between the bands we were hearing), it seemed fairly contained within the geographical area loosely known or affiliated with the term “East Coast” and, even more specifically, “New England”. However, it quickly became clear that this phenomenon, this network of friends and artists who have been working together for years, span across the entire United States. Let’s name a few of them, just to give you a sense of their geographical disparity: Man Mountain (Michigan), Ranges (Montana, more about Montana soon), This Patch of Sky (Oregon), Wess Meets West (Connecticut) Pray For Sound (Massachusetts), Deadhorse (Pennsylvania), Coastlands (Oregon), and many, many more (no, seriously; many more).
So, what ties these bands together? First, it all has to come down to the music. All of the bands above, in some way or another, are inherently influenced, unsurprisingly enough, by the third wave of post-rock. This means that many of them, if not all, rely on a crescendo based structure. However, since this is something new, you won’t find other essential attributes of the third wave; the tracks tend to be shorter and the focus is not so guitar based, with drums, bass, and electronics all taking up an important place in the mix and the composition. This leads us to another difference from the third wave: many of these bands introduce electronics in way which the third wave would never use. Take Ranges’ The Ascensionist; it includes electronic beats and touches that bring the album to life, like on the marvelous “Called Not to a New Religion, but to Life”. These little touches, breathing new life into the post-rock formula which many of us (rightfully) declared dead is what originally drew us to this developing scenes and its ways. They just make some damn fine post-rock.
However, more than just a musical affinity binds these bands together; perhaps because of the musical connection, real-world connections began to grow between these bands. Tracing the complete network would be impossible as these guys are known to share labels, band members, merch outlets, tours, festivals, and more. However, we can, in the scope of this post, perhaps describe three fulcrums which exist because of/maintain this unique and intricate chain of connections. As we do it, please remember that the idea is not to give a definitive map or a list of directions but rather to tantalize you into exploring this scene for yourself. Try pulling on these threads; I promise you that they’ll reveal interesting vectors and discovering these lattices as we did is a joy I wouldn’t want to deny anyone of you.
Our first stop is a label/DIY collective/group of friends/intrepid coffee makers called A Thousand Arms music. They’re also from Montana and might have something to do with the aforementioned Ranges. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve already covered them several times on the blog and even on Post Rock Post’s summary of 2017. They even make our shirts! But back them, we emphasized the global role that A Thousand Arms were playing; little did we know back then (when C.J himself, also a member of Ranges, alluded to the friendships that had resulted from the group’s work) how heavily embedded they were in the scene that was forming around them. This year, that’s exactly what I want to shine a light on: how a “label” (though the term doesn’t really fit what A1KA do) shades the borders and limitations which exist between them and the bands they represent and jump wholeheartedly into the passionate of making and performing music. How the members of A1KA are in bands themselves, play shows and festivals even as they help make them happen, make their merch the same way they make their band’s shirts, and, in general, how integral they are to this micro-scene. Hell, one of their main collaborators now writes for Heavy Blog (hey David)! Compare this to other labels you know, within post-rock and without and you’ll seen get an idea of how unique this kind of relationship is.
Our second stop is a person called Brian Morgante (AKA Deadhorse). We’ve spoken with him at length about his politics and their ties to music but what we didn’t know at the time was how much Brian was involved with the American post-rock scene. You see, Brian is somewhat of a graphic design wizard, creating often unsettling, unique, and beautiful images. He has worked with bands from many different genres as Flesh & Bone Design (his design brand/persona) but for our needs, we can just list a few of them: Old Faith, Staghorn, Man Mountain, Pray for Sound, A Thousand Arms themselves, This Patch of Sky, and more. In fact, he’s worked with so many bands associated with this style that when I see his artwork in the wild (something which is happening more and more), I immediately associate the project with post-rock, whether it is or not.
This kind of visual language is an incredibly important thing for a scene, creating a shared style, theme, and palette for it. Brian himself (through his digital/online identity) has become a meeting point where bands hear of each other, partnerships are formed, and future projects are planned. Through his art, he gives the scene not only intangible shape (in the form of visual cues associated with it) but also a space which “bleeds out” into the tangible world around him. If nothing else, his unique style gives our brains that little nudge it before pattern recognition kicks in and is thus inherently responsible for me even recognizing this scene as its own distinct thing, with a personality and common ground being shared around so many artists.
Our last stop is actually two stops, both of them festivals. The tension that’s been running through this description of the New Wave of American post-rock is the tension between the virtual space and physical space. This makes sense; in this day and age, it’s easier to create such networks of collaboration exactly because the Internet and its many tools exist to facilitate communication over great distances. However, our desire for something tangible, for a physical manifestation of the music we’re talking about and consuming, will always be strong. That’s why we still go to shows, still buy CDs and vinyl, still wear merch, and so on. And that’s why we still meet friends outside of our homes; it gives our relationships and, by extension, our lives a sense of solidity, a sense of reality.
This kind of community is no different; it often manifests in the form of shows. For this community, this has happened twice before; once, last year, when Dunk!Festival came to Vermont (bringing together acts from this scene alongside veterans like Russian Circles and Tides of Man) and twice, this year, when Post. Festival happened in Indianapolis (a festival we had the pleasure to sponsor). At both of these events not only was music played but a community grew tighter, personal friendships forming around drink, food, travel, and the such. You know, the basic firmament of living and living with other people you call friends. These festivals (may there be many more and may I be able to one day attend them) are perhaps the truest form of the fulcrum point which I have described herein; physically, they are like hubs, with bands, creators, and fans traveling from all over the world to meet in and share physical space. What great expression of community could there be than the hours traveled for these festivals, not to mention the hours spent making them happen?
So, at the outset of my section here, I’d like to encourage you to dig deeper into this fascinating community/micro-scene that is slowly forming before our eyes. 2018 was a fantastic year for it, wherein new albums were released, new records were set, and the communication between the geographically disparate parts of it grew just a bit closer. We couldn’t be more proud here at Heavy Blog to take what small part we take in this community; it’s honestly one of our favorite things to do. Here’s to the future; may it be filled with many more amazing post-rock moments, albums, and sounds!
Oh, and here’s my Top 10 Post Rock albums of 2018, just because:
- Whale Fall – Sondersongs
- Bear the Mammoth – Year Under Glass
- Reformat – The Singularity
- Pj5 – I Told the Little Bird
- Kaschalot – Whale Songs
- Isles – Remnants
- Man Mountain – Infinity Mirror
- El Ten Eleven – Banker’s Hill
- Foxhole – Well Kept Thing
- Spurv – Myra