The fatal flaw, to me, of end-of-year music journalism content, is that lists discussing stuff from the past year often forget to mention that a lot of music discovery happens later. Now, no music writer is outright saying this – and of course everyone knows that people find albums in years other than the ones they were released, duh – but the limitation of year’s-end recollection to solely discussing albums that came out that year has always seemed a little ridiculous to me. Hence, this list: some of the staff members here at Heavy Blog writing about our favorite albums of 2018 that aren’t actually from 2018. There are a few different camps of releases that fall under this banner: slept-on albums from the past couple years (the entries from Trent and Pete both fall here), classics that we finally learned to enjoy (myself and, to an extent, Jonathan), and forays into genres we didn’t know yet how to appreciate when the album in question was released (Eden). (Weirdly, this organization in list form follows the list below, which I can assure you is just a funny coincidence; everything below is organized alphabetically by artist.) Point is, discovering music is a beautiful and fascinating thing, and it’s what keeps us all doing what we do, and music we discover from previous years deserves a bit more of a spotlight when it comes to year’s-end content. So, without any more gilding this lily, here are our favorite discoveries of non-2018 albums that have happened in this past year.
All Human – Teenagers, You Don’t Have to Die! (2016)
Teenagers, You Don’t Have to Die! Is a bizarrely original and brilliant piece of experimental indie/art-rock that takes the listener on a theatrical journey. I somehow missed out on hearing about this album and band until early this year when I saw it promoted by the talented Brian Ferrara of one of my favourite post-hardcore/experimental rock groups Trophy Scars. All Human sees Brian teaming up with the very recognizable Adam Fischer, known mostly as the vocalist for the late-great post-hardcore group Fear Before the March of Flames, and more recently in another experimental prog supergroup Orbs (with Dan Briggs of BTBAM among others). The two live on opposite sides of the US, and for their sophomore album, Teenagers was written entirely from sending ideas and tracks back and forth online. Bless the internet.
While written as a two-piece, the album employs a barrage of guest vocalists and musicians, including both the pianist and vocalist of Trophy Scars who scratch my itch for more music from them very well. There’s a lot of dynamic vocal ranges playing off each other, which is maybe best recognized in the single ‘Where’s my Upslope?’. This track is a big back and forth between two people giving advice to what is assumed to be a teenager. As the album title suggests, Teenagers, You Don’t Have to Die! is a unique combination of metaphoric story telling and commentary on teenage life.
The piano use on this album is one of my favourite aspects of this album. It’s not over-the-top or in your face, but It’s employed to often carry the song-writing. The contrast with Adam’s higher pitched singing voice and the general atmospheric nature of the album creates an enchanting almost Radiohead-like feel. This is perhaps best on display on the slow-moving but powerful “Desert Fox Cubs Play Under a Sky Full of Stars”, which has some very stirring vocal passages along with post-rock-esque build-ups. There’s a lot of droning reverb and synth layered throughout, and while the tempo changes quite often throughout the album there is always a sense of fullness to the sound with near perfect production. The piano and synth are also used to create a diverse range of styles including some very fun swing-like moments, and a lot of weird creepiness that is definitely accentuated by Fischer’s strange vocal work and lyrics.
This is an album where every time I listen to it I find something new to appreciate, and one where I’ve had at least 4 different favourite songs from since I first heard it. The 17-track length is a little daunting at first for a rock album, but the songs are succinct, and the album jumps along nicely between what feels like many different scenes and settings in a movie. This is honestly a very weird album that might not be for everyone, but for me this duo has harnessed weird into something quite special.
Batushka – Litourgiya (2015)
I have found that there’s something extremely meditative about black metal. The constant barrage of tremolo picking and evil atmosphere isn’t completely unlike the experience of going to church for me as a kid. Obviously the two things are completely opposed to each other, but Batushka makes that connection more palpable.
Personally, I like when media I enjoy dips its toes into religion. Despite not being a religious person, I still admire religious feelings and people who feel moved by their spirituality. There is a tranquility in religious people that I don’t think I’ll ever achieve. Religious thinking does lend itself well to meditation which I personally do get on board with. Litourgiya is nothing if not a meditative record. Despite being the cacophony that black metal usually is, there is a meditative quality to this record. It’s melodic and repetitive in a delightful way that can force you to close your eyes and let the music wash over you while you focus on your thoughts.
Litourgiya has become a record I constantly return to. I put it on at work or while I’m working on something else mindless. It helps me organize my thoughts as I’m working on coding at work or washing dishes at home. The serenity you feel while listening to this record is wondrous. For a black metal band, it is incredibly kind to the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. It’s a wonderful expression of faith and emotion caused by spirituality. There may be bigger bands and more groundbreaking records out there to return to, but Litourgiya will always be one of those records to me.
Discordance Axis – The Inalienable Dreamless (2000)
I’ve been sitting, staring at my computer screen, jaw tense, uncomfortable, for the past 15 minutes. Trying to think of how to even start writing something about The Inalienable Dreamless is a daunting task, and the idea of bringing any sort of justice to this album through my words seems like a task at which I am predetermined to fail.
I guess I’ll start with this: Discordance Axis is your favorite grindcore band’s favorite grindcore band. Any group in the genre that has released an album after August 13th, 2000, is influenced by The Inalienable Dreamless, whether they know it or not (they probably know it). Following the release of their previous album, 1997’s Jouhou, the band’s future was uncertain: key member, guitarist Rob Marton, had left for job-related reasons, and the rest of the group decided to take a hiatus. They reformed a couple years later, at some point in 1999, and wrote The Inalienable Dreamless. Due to a mishap with their first studio engineer, the album was almost never recorded; Jon D’Uva stepped in last minute to help Discordance Axis record their final album.
But this record isn’t famous because it almost never saw release, it’s famous because of the profound, lasting impact it had on the future of metal. First off, we gotta talk about the futures of a couple of the members: vocalist Jon Chang, who would go on to be the vocalist of Gridlink for their decade-long run as a band, and drummer Dave Witte, who has been in too many bands to list here, but a short list would include metalcore savants Burnt by the Sun, noise rockers Hex Machine, and thrash metal party punks Municipal Waste (and let’s not forget the band he got his start in before he joined DA, the truly unbeatable death/grind outfit Human Remains). To those who have somehow not yet listened to The Inalienable Dreamless, this pedigree alone should let you know exactly what level of quality you’re in for.
The impact of two of the trio’s members doesn’t account for much without also reckoning with the actual release itself, so here goes. I’ve been typing and re-typing this next sentence and trying to phrase it in the best possible way, but I think at this point I just have to say fuck it and speak the truth: The Inalienable Dreamless is the best grindcore album, ever. No ifs, ands, or buts. Yes, it is better than From Enslavement to Obliteration. Yes, it is better than Helvete. Yes, it is better than World Extermination, and Prowler in the Yard, and World Downfall, and Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses. It Is. The Best. Grindcore Album.
It is also completely impenetrable in the strongest way; it is all of the genre’s fluidity and noise and violence while eschewing any sense of real groove or rhythm. The Inalienable Dreamless is so mathematically precise that it almost becomes inhuman: Jon Chang’s highly emotional, arresting vocal performance is its sole anchor in our realm of thought. Witte’s drumming and Marton’s guitar come together to form an infinite spiral that never quite repeats itself; the lithe instrumentation is constantly cascading towards some unknown depth in the most arresting, fascinating fashion possible. Bits like the climactic second half of “Jigsaw” or the chunky, stomping intro to “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” or the almost-groove in “Oratorio in Grey” are among the genre’s best moments. It’s small parts like these, in fact, crystalline moments in every song on the album, that make The Inalienable Dreamless so special; small emotionally-charged segments that stick out amidst the roiling tornado of sound the two instrumentalists produce. It is top-notch musicianship, songcraft par excellence.
2018 is the year I truly fell in love with The Inalienable Dreamless, partially because it was the year I decided to finally crack it and just listen to the album on repeat until it started to make sense and partially because the last couple years were when I really, honestly warmed up to grind as a genre and found myself ready to enjoy its apex. Mostly, though, 2018 is the year I fell in love with The Inalienable Dreamless because it’s been the year where my own emotional turbidity and the frenetic pace of my own life and our life as a planet writ large finally felt like they matched an album of such strong emotional spectacle. In a chaotic, uneven, impenetrable world, I finally found a soundtrack to match my own bewilderment.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus (2004)
One of my favorite releases of 2016 was Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ transfixing, emotionally brutalizing release Skeleton Tree. After sitting with this album for some time, then watching Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River, which features Cave and Warren Ellis on its score, I got a hankering to go back to the Bad Seeds discography to dive a bit of a deeper into the band’s work. I had started the incredible double album in question, Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus a few years back and had never finished. The right music at the wrong time in my life, I suppose. Because revisiting this record was nothing short of a pure exhalation of manic joy.
The record’s first half is as energized as one will find Cave’s music. Opening track “Get Ready for Love” is about as romantically ridiculous as it sounds. Cave yells and cries with exultant glee as a backing choir belts out refrains of “PRAISE HIM!” with all the heavenly devotion they can muster. It’s as fantastical opening track as one can imagine, and Cave and his band spend the rest of the record subverting listener expectations. “Cannibal’s Hymn” is a groovy, almost sexy ballad about “dining with the cannibals”, which is about as Nick Cave as songs get. Subsequent track is an industrially bluesy trek that ventures into railroad-style spiritual territory. Track-by-track, the record’s first half consistently takes left turns without ever feeling disjointed. This is all Cave, all the time, which is essentially a genre of music in and of itself.
The Lyre of Orpheus is by turns a more acoustically driven and gentle affair sonically, focusing primarily on acoustic instrumentation and simpler arrangements. Which isn’t to say, by any stretch, that this is the “boring” half of the album. After the generally raucous mood established by Abattoir Blues’ nine frenetic tracks, these remaining ballads and acoustic wandering are as full of life as anything in Cave’s catalog. “Babe, You Turn Me On”, “Easy Money”, and the piano-drenched musings of “Spell” and “Carry Me” are simply magical, filling this latter portion of the record with enough good ideas to make any lesser band green with envy. It’s one of the most epic and incredible experiences in Cave’s discography, and I would certainly list it as essential listening.
I really have no idea why I didn’t listen to and fall madly in love with this record when it was released. Perhaps I wasn’t ready for it, or my taste hadn’t developed to a point where I could appropriately process it. Regardless, I’m happy to be sitting with this record in this place and time. It’s a truly gargantuan achievement in a career full of them, and I can not recommend it more highly.
– Jonathan Adams
Oak Pantheon / Amiensus – Gathering (2013)
I’ve only really managed to get black metal in the last three years or so; great timing, right? Because of the genre’s harsh trappings and even more obscure background (nothing like having to read five paragraphs of esoteric mumbling to figure out if the band you’re listening to espouses Nazism), it’s a really tough nut to crack. But for those willing to spend the time on it, there are some great bands lying in wait, making some of the most emotionally impactful and effective metal I’ve heard.
Oak Pantheon is a great example; I was introduced to their In Pieces when it came out and I was immediately in love. They make the kind of intelligent, engaging, and expansive atmospheric black metal which I just lap up. When they followed that up with Sol this year, an acoustic album about climate change, I just knew I had to dig deeper into the history of the band. Just as I was doing that, they released a split with Amiensus, a band I knew little about, and it was titled Gathering II, the number being the key part here. II I thought to myself? What’s Gathering I?
Turns out that Gathering is a split EP from the two bands released in 2013 and containing truly amazing music. Amiensus open the offering with “Arise”, a powerfully melodic and expressive track which utilizes both clean and harsh vocals in really, really interesting ways, reminding of Borknagar or Saor in its approach to composition. Oak Pantheon swoop in with “A Gathering”, a more brooding but no less expressive track that does wonders in contrast with the opening track. As a result of this fine offering, I was spurred to explore both bands more in depth and discovered some of my favorite names in the genre; I can’t wait to see what our shared future might bring.
– Eden Kupermintz
Sounds Like Violence – The Pistol EP (2004)
Oh, Deep Elm Records. Bless ‘em. Their dedication to offering their entire, extensive back catalog for $1 per digital download has opened the door to plenty of discoveries for me over the past few years. My absolute favorite thing I’ve uncovered has to be Sweden’s Sounds Like Violence, who sound a lot like Refused if Refused had earned the hype instead of being one of the most unreasonably canonized bands of the past 20 years. Sounds Like Violence wasn’t around that long, with a discography that spans from 2004 to 2009 (although their 2009 release The Devil On Nobel Street appears to be super rare for reasons I don’t understand). Their debut LP With Blood On My Hands (2007) is exceedingly solid, but holy balls is their 2004 EP The Pistol a masterpiece to behold.
The last three of the six tracks on the record are really, really good. This is where Sounds Like Violence expand their palette considerably, playing around with extended compositions and bigger ideas, but it’s a testament to the front half of the album how easily they can feel like an afterthought. The first three tracks on The Pistol are the stuff legends are made of. If this band could have kept up that mixture of feverish intensity, gripping immediacy and masterclass melody throughout their career I highly doubt we’d be having this discussion about them in this particular space.
Kicking off with “You Give Me Heart Attacks,” you can see instant glimpses of that special something, that “it” that few bands possess – names like At the Drive In and Circa Survive spring immediately to mind, bands that could take sensitivity and turn it into swagger, could make vitriol from vulnerability. They also possess that peak Modest Mouse quality of being able to be very precise in sounding like they’re just shooting from the hip. Everything feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart, but ultimately this is post-punk/post-hardcore at its most expertly executed. The hits keep coming on “Cry, Oh Cry,” which appears to be what they were aiming for as a single, with its radio-ready chorus melody and the approachable-yet-angular quality of the composition that sounds not unlike The Killers minus the major label sheen. The real coup here though, the culmination of everything on this record is the title track. I can talk about it at length, but you just have to live in it. Few songs I have heard in the last decade have the ability to absolutely possess the listener like this. From the kick-ass verse riff to the absolutely towering beast of a sing-along chorus, this is an anthem for the ages and something that I truly regret never being able to witness live. This band could have released these three songs then fell completely off the face of the Earth and their legacy would be intact. Sounds Like Violence never really became all they should have, but The Pistol is a must-have for any human being that values music’s ability to shake you to your core.