The first thing I want to say, as the newest addition to the Heavy Blog team, is what a privilege it has been to write with these guys over the past few months and to have the opportunity to perhaps expose more great Australian progressive rock and metal to the world.
Gushing aside, though, two things have struck me about 2012, the first of which has been the breadth and the quality of the releases by Australian bands, some of which appear on my list below. Of those releases that didn’t quite make the cut, I was particularly impressed with, amongst others, Elysian‘s Wires of Creation, Okera‘s A Beautiful Dystopia, and Avadante by Kettlespider. Promising EPs were also released by Gods of Eden and In Trenches, all of which bodes well for the future of music in this country.
The other thing that stands out to me, as I look down the list of albums that really captured my interest this year, is that 2012 has been a year dominated by mood, atmosphere and emotion. Now, to be fair, I am generally drawn to vibe heavy music, but never before have I listened to so many doom influenced bands!
At the end of the day, however, I was in no doubt as to which three albums would vie for top spot, each one stylistically, technically and structurally progressive, yet still emotionally accessible, and I am sure that all three will remain stalwarts of my collection for many years to come.
10. Be’lakor – Of Breath and Bone
The first of two Australian entries in my Top 10, there is not much more that I can say about Be’lakor‘s Of Breath and Bone beyond that which I have already said in my review, posted just a few weeks ago. In short, however, this band of Melbournians have created an album of grand and darkly atmospheric melodeath that, while not as progressive as some of the other entries on list, is full of wonderfully poetic contrasts, and demonstrates that there is life in this genre yet for bands willing to stretch themselves both technically and compositionally.
9. 7 Horns 7 Eyes – Throes of Absolution
I can think of no more epic an opening to an album from this year than ‘Divine Amnesty’ from 7 Horns 7 Eyes‘ long awaited debut album, Throes of Absolution, and to be frank, this album might have made it into my Top 10 on the strength of that track alone! However, what follows is a suffocatingly dense and gloomy album of extreme doom-core, that swallows you into a mire of mid-paced chugs and JJ Polachek’s bleak and forebodingly menacing vocals, before gently lifting you to salvation on the wings of some incredibly crisp lead guitar flourishes. Unsurprisingly, the appearance of Jeff Loomis on the instrumental track, ‘Regeneration’, is also a particular highlight, adding as he does a much needed breath of delicacy with which to close out the album.
8. Katatonia – Dead End Kings
Listening to Dead End Kings, it is hard not to be struck by the confidence with which Katatonia are now going about their work, and after a career spanning more than twenty years, perhaps that is unsurprising. Summed up so eloquently by Juular’s review, Dead End Kings is an album of depressing beauty that glitters with moments of progressiveness, but remains overwhelmingly soulful and atmospheric. The vocal performance of Jonas Renkse is typically restrained, which adds to the highly introspective mood of this album, as well as its hopeless and vividly stark imagery. At the same time, there is an explosive power to this record which is built on the foundation of Nille Standin’s deep bass, and filled out richly by the guitars of Anders Nystrom and Per Eriksson.
7. Gojira – L’Enfant Sauvage
The music of Gojira is like a juggernaut rolling relentlessly forward, slowly crushing everything in its path, and although I might be a bit out on my own here, I consider L’Enfant Sauvage to be their best album yet. The riffing is absolutely ruthless, while Mario Duplantier pummels those drums so unbelievably heavily without ever losing a shred of momentum, and his brother Joe screams with a savage brutality most deathcore vocalists can only dream of. Furthermore, despite the apparent simplicity of their music, offset as it is by the occasionally syncopated drum variations, there is an unmistakable sophistication to the way in which Gojira weave their grooves, which is especially evident at the beginning of the title track, which also happens to be my favourite moment of the album.
6. In Mourning – The Weight of Oceans
There should be no doubting the skill it takes to make simple music captivating, and with The Weight of Oceans, that is exactly what In Mourning have done. Certainly, there is little to say here from a purely technical perspective, and in constructing this album, the band appears to have borrowed heavily from Opeth, which is perhaps something that some people might criticise them for. However, the way I see it, to dwell on these issues would be to miss the point of this music entirely, for this is melo-death performed in the most genuinely doom drenched, hauntingly beautiful, and angst ridden of ways. The pain these musicians must be feeling is palpable, and is etched all over the wrought screams of the two vocalists, but particularly Bjorn Petterson, just as it flows through the melodies of their guitars.
5. Deftones – Koi No Yokan
With a back catalogue including such classic albums as Around the Fur,White Pony and Diamond Eyes, one could forgive Deftones for resting on their laurels and taking it easy. To the contrary, however, Deftones continue to demonstrate the sort of commitment to their craft that has made them easily the best and most credible band to come out of the nu/alternative metal movement, and one of my favourite bands of all time. Reminiscent of their eponymous album from 2003, Koi No Yokan is an exploration of texture and vibe that it is unconcerned for accepted songwriting conventions, and instead flows from mood to mood with a rawness and edginess that is surprising considering how long these guys have been at it, but definitely keeps this album fresh and engaging. Chino Moreno has rarely sounded so impassioned, and I just love how the production allows you to actually visualise Stephen Carpenter’s fingers being shredded on those strings.
4. Anathema – Weather Systems
Profoundly articulate and emotive, Weather Systems is an amazingly reflective album that exudes desperation and yearning, each song swelling from a touchingly melancholic opening into a broadly layered and often uplifting climax. This is achieved mainly through the use of acoustic guitars, orchestral arrangements and progressive and post-rock song structures which, even though there are some moments of distortion, is a far cry from Anathema‘s beginnings as a death/doom outfit. Furthermore, Vince Cavanagh has turned in what could well be the vocal performance of the year, and I must say, it has been a long time since I have connected with a female vocalist in the way I do with Lee Douglas, especially during her part in ‘Untouchable Part 2’.
3. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
While many of my new colleagues here at Heavy Blog have long been faithfully committed worshipers at the temple of Between the Buried and Me, I must admit that I have always struggled to fully connect with their music, the reason being a sense that their previous releases have been generally strangled by the tension built through the band’s frenetic and treble heavy riffing, as well as through Tommy Rogers’ harsh vocal style.
However, with Parallax II, the band has, in my opinion, finally struck upon that tricky balance between intellectualism, technicality and emotiveness that, while elusive, is the hallmark of truly memorable progressive albums.
Many of you will have read the *prognotes essays on this album by Alkahest and Juular, and it is impressive that a work such as this can sustain that degree of narrative and thematic analysis.
For me, though, the key to the success of Parallax II, and the reason why it is so satisfying, is that without losing any of their intensity, the band has applied a greater focus to the means by which they release the tension that their music so naturally builds within the listener. The result is more cohesively integrated genre jumps, a broader emphasis on mood, space and groove, and most importantly, a more liberal and concerted application of clean melody, which is especially effective during the more prominent and satisfying points of climax.
2. Slice the Cake – The Man With No Face
It was recently said by Heavy Blog contributor, Alucard, that Slice the Cake are “next level”, and on the evidence of their debut album, The Man with No Face, it is hard to disagree. Whereas the superficiality of most deathcore releases is barely concealed by a contrived focus on aggression and brutality, and at a time when most progressive proponents of the genre seem preoccupied with jazz and astrophysics, Slice the Cake have produced an album that combines progressiveness with an overridingly malevolent mood that makes for a particularly harrowing listening experience.
In my opinion, one thing that really sets The Man with No Face apart from other deathcore releases is the sound of effortlessness within the guitar playing, both in terms of the riffing and the lead breaks, which immediately draws you in for a closer listen, and at times, the guitars sound as if they are being played in some dark chasm, which further adds to the album’s pervasive eeriness. The vocal performance is varied, from the punishing harsh vocals to the resigned cleans in ‘Of Gallows’, and whenever I hear those screams at the end of ‘Rational Thinking, Logical Future’, I can’t help but think they are being emitted from some horrific torture chamber. The symphonic elements are tasteful and never overbearing, and this is probably the best example of drum programming that I am yet to hear in this context, both in terms of the drum sounds and the complexity of the rhythms.
Considering that the three members of Slice the Cake live on separate continents, as well as the inclusion of an epic 20 minute closing track on The Man with No Face, it is clear that these musicians are risk takers, and for that reason, I am super excited to hear Other Slices, due out this week!
1. Ne Obliviscaris – Portal of I
From its opening blast of icy black metal tremolo picking backed by the pained shrieks of Xenyor, and the pizzicato violin bridge section just a few seconds later, it is clear from the very beginning of Ne Obliviscaris’ debut album, Portal of I, that it is going to be something special. By the introduction of Tim Charles’ angelic clean vocals, and the mournful acoustic guitar and violin interlude that eventually follows, what becomes obvious is that this album is nothing short of a masterpiece of extreme progressive metal which, in my opinion, also constitutes the best album of 2012.
Of course, the inclusion of a violin as a semi-lead instrument is something that immediately sets Ne Obliviscaris and this album apart, and having myself dabbled with the incorporation of a violin into heavy music (very unsuccessfully might I add), I appreciate just how skillfully this has been done. Thankfully, Charles has resisted any temptation that might have existed for him to utilise an electric instrument, and I think this has been an important factor in him retaining a very authentic sound. The other reason for their success on this front is that Charles is an absolutely fantastic player, and having studied with one of Australia’s best teachers, his technical pedigree is evident throughout the album, with his confident double stopping being a particular highlight for me.
However, while Charles stands out for obvious reasons, it must be said that all of the performances on this album are incredible, from the very dextrous bass work of Brendan Brown, which is made all the more enjoyable by the refreshingly prominent place it occupies in the mix, to the sensitive lead and acoustic guitar of Benji Baret, and the metronomic blast beating of Dan Presland.
Portal of I is an album of seven absolutely epic tracks that flow seamlessly between flurries of black metal, melodeath and metalcore, as well as non-metal styles such as folk and flamenco. Moments of introspection burst into euphoria on an album of contrasting moods that is, when heard in its entirety, an utterly engrossing emotional journey.
Since the release of Portal of I, I have been lucky enough to see Ne Obliviscaris perform three times, and I am happy to report that they can pull off every note on this album live, which is just another reason to marvel at this incredible opus, and the musicians behind it!
Breaking Orbit – The Time Traveller
Cattle Decapitation – Monolith of Inhumanity
Whitechapel – Whitechapel
Groove of the Year:
Meshuggah – ‘Do Not Look Down’
Koloss was a bit underwhelming in my view, but the the groove of ‘Do Not Look Down’ is both mesmerising and absolutely skull crushing.
Video of the Year:
Gojira – ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’
I love the synthesis between the rhythm of the stop motion photography in this clip and the rhythm of the riffs. Also, the imagery is sublime and works in perfect harmony with the mood of the song.
Live Performance of the Year:
Animals As Leaders
Of course this video doesn’t quite capture it, but this performance from Animals As Leaders was literally one of the best displays of guitar and drum technique that I have seen in nearly 20 years of watching live music. Fucking blew my mind!