Despite seeing the name pop up in circles associated with music I listen to on the regular, it wasn’t until this year’s monumental Pathway that I truly discovered Secrets of the Sky. The band are fluid in their array of influences in such a way to defy immediate characterization. Progressive metal, sure. Post-metal? Why not. But to put this 4D peg into a 2D hole would be a disservice. Perhaps the closest point of reference for the purpose of introduction to Secrets of the Sky would be to imagine a darker timeline where Alcest never completely turned their back on black metal of if Anathema were still gripping onto melancholic doom, but retained the ethereal hooks and embraced the aesthetic of ‘the call of the void’ instead of a fantastical sense of nostalgia or longing. Pathway is a cinematic doom record without the obscuring haze or overwhelming nihilism. Songs wonder but never meander to the point where the band are diluting all their good ideas. How Secrets of the Sky can even approach capturing a sense of “hopeless optimism” (for the lack of a better term) is beyond me, but it works.
Considering the exceptional body of work that ISIS released before their 2010 demise, Aaron Turner could have easily latched his guitar cases shut and retired from an immeasurably influential career. Of course, as with any musician passionate about their artform, Turner’s guitars will only be laid to rest with him when they latch his coffin shut. Turner’s dozen or so side-projects have clearly indicated that he brings out the best in his collaborators and that Wavering Radiant was far from the last statement that he wishes to make. While Sumac was not the first of these projects, nor even Turner’s first supergroup, the initial announcement elicited a great deal of intrigue and excitement. With a guest roster including drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists), session bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch, Russian Circles) and production team Mell Dettmer (Earth, Kayo Dot, Sunn O))), Wolves In the Throne Room) and Kurt Ballou (far too many to list), the anticipation among fans awaiting The Deal was lethal.
And to the surprise of absolutely no one, The Deal holds up its end of the agreement, producing six tracks of sprawling, cavernous sludge metal with such an inseparable bond of crushing filth, stirring melodies and experimental playing that each listen provides the listener with a different array of unexplored emotions. The Deal epitomizes Turner’s mantra of composing “thinking man’s metal,” arguably more so than any of his post-ISIS work. Turner has alluded that he is currently working on new material to be released under the Sumac name, implying that The Deal is not a one-of and that the band may very well become the next great post metal band of this decade. And while an ISIS reunion may rank atop every post metal fan’s wish list, The Deal’s follow up should come in at a very close second.
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Down, down below the surface of the ocean, there are places where no light has touched forever. Underneath the surmounting pressure of the waters, a whole world exists: varied lights, forms of bodies and life swim in the murky depths. This is where Tangled Thoughts of Leaving preside over their unique sound. We throw the word “destructive” around a lot when covering music; this, however, is the real deal. This album will leave you emotionally drained, socially inept and mentally unstable. Its approach to post metal mixes heartbreaking piano, crushing static and momentous guitars to create a sonic blanket as thick as a squid’s ink.
Where do you begin to compare this album? Perhaps the seminal ISIS, mixed with the bleak landscapes of Pelican. But one must also mention Sunn O))), their cloak shrouded spectres hovering over this vitriolic and crushing mix. Finally, don’t forget contemporaries a Swarm of the Sun, whose album The Rifts lives somewhere in this list as well. They almost sound like sister albums; partners in sorrow and decay. Long story short, turn off all the lights, turn the A/C to maximum and make sure someone is around to drag you back from the pelagial depths that Yield to Despair is conniving to consign you to.
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Judging by the response that New Hampshire’s Vattnet Viskar have been getting since Settler dropped, the group are fast becoming top dogs in US black metal. People are loving Settler, and for good reason; the songwriting is on point and captures the feeling of expansive wonder without meandering through sparse shoegaze and over-long tracks despite what the album art would lead one to assume. Post-black metal, while loved dearly around these parts, has potential to be a bit samey — the idea of trem-picking major-key chord progressions against blastbeats is starting to sound less bizarre — and you can thank the genre’s marriage with sludge and its affair with crust throughout Settler for its unlikely grandiosity. Vattnet Viskar’s exercise in the idea that big things can come in small packages yields some interesting results; these three-to-five minute songs are filled with hooks, riffs, and subtle nuances that beg repeated spins. It might not make sense, but Settler takes all the things that made post-black metal such a burgeoning institution, and then avoids them altogether — no clean vocals, no optimism, and no pretty instrumental breaks. And yet, Settler is infectious in a way that few records in the genre manage to be, and that’s why it is one of the best records you’ll hear this year, whether you’re into black metal or not.
Modern tech-death has one element that seems to set it apart, and that’s its speed. However, California band WRVTH doesn’t necessarily care about it all too much. Their name change marked a musical change as well. WRVTH is one of the best tech-death-prog albums to ever come out this year. Its driving force is made up largely of stellar songwriting, focusing on creating good songs rather than overly technical parts. The album also sounds very organic, with the songs retaining a human feel to them that so many modern bands forget to leave in their music, whether it simply be because they’re concerned with having a super polished record or worrisome about not fitting in with their contemporaries. WRVTH turn the idea of tech-death on its head, including some sax solos (yes, sax solos), crazy clean and ambient parts, as well as some of the best vocals in the genre. A very young band, these Cali natives still show signs of tech death all over the place, with intricate guitars and bass intertwined with complex drum patterns, but they do so in a way that’s incredibly unique.
Songs like “Harrowing Winds”, “Lured By Knaves”, and the album’s closer “Cease To Exist” are all examples of why this band is going to become one of the most important and biggest in the genre within the coming years. It’s no surprise if you’ve heard the record, but if you have not, simply put it on, because it’s a guaranteed solid listen from start to finish, and you’d be hard pressed to find one that matches it from the last couple of years.