Welcome to our 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 January 26th, we’re not going to be nitpickers and keep it off our list. You can read all of them right here.
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!
Textures – Phenotype
Textures. The wait becomes more arduous when the last album, in this case Duality, raised eyebrows and was a point of division among fans. Even though, as far as this editor is concerned, it was a brilliant album, it still acted as a watershed moment and its follow up had a lot to prove. Well, circle all the points you were expecting Textures to address and mark a giant, blue tick mark next to them: Phenotype blows anything we could have expected out of the water.
The album is most impressive in how cohesive it is: it goes hard and stops only briefly near the end. While some redundant tracks exist, like the aptly named “Meander”, most of the time this album is flawlessly arranged. It manages to be both intricate and immediately accessible. This is owed to the masterful balance between more technically divergent tracks, like opener “Oceans Collide”, the aggressive “Shaping a Single Grain of Sand” or “Illuminate the Trail” and more directly powerful tracks like “New Horizons”.
Whether blistering progressive metal or emotional variations on it, Textures sound amazing on this album. The production is spot on and the band seem to have a new stride in their style. With another release looming over the horizon, Textures seem set to reclaim their status as standard bearers for the modern progressive metal scene. If they continue to release music as intricate and polished as this, that’s a great thing. Many bands, both aspiring and veteran, would do well to take note of how well put together this album and how effortless it sound. Those qualities in turn leave the listener refreshed, optimistic and eager to return by the time the album ends, making sure an emotional connection is forged between receptor and transmitter.
Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash
(Yeah, I know this is a pick from January, not from February, but the other albums from this month that caught my attention had already been claimed, and Pillars of Ash is too much fun to not write about.)
To be entirely honest, Pillars of Ash isn’t really a metal album: it’s a fun romp of a punk album dressed up in sludge metal’s apocalyptic grimness and thick, warm guitar tones, a record that combines the high-octane forward motion of hardcore with the ire that is a hallmark of the metal subgenre Black Tusk tends to get lodged in with. Definitely one of the most straightforward records of the year so far, tracks like “Bleed On Your Knees” and “Black Tide” are aggressive, in-your-face songs; every song on here is full of emotion and rightly so, since this is the last album the band has written/recorded with bassist/vocalist Jonathan Athon before he tragically died in a motorcycle accident in 2014.
Pillars is a determined juggernaut of a record, dedicated solely to steamrolling everything in its path on its way to total aural conquest and annihilation of its audience. Every riff feels detestably dirty and grungy, bursting forth from your speakers with a spark of life entirely its own, the diabolical vocal duet feels like a constant series of one-two punches to the gut, and each instrument has its time in the limelight across the album. Consistency is the name of Black Tusk’s game on Pillars of Ash, and it works perfectly. Despite the name and its implications of a structure falling apart, this is an album that is sturdy and compact. These guys, it says, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It
First off, I am so incredibly sorry. In all likelihood, you are reading this list to find out about the most stand-out metal albums of February 2016, but I’m going to be pretty straight with you: compared to an abnormally stacked January, February didn’t have a whole lot of music I was excited about. Obscura dominated my listening for much of the month, but when it came to deliberations among editorial staff to decide what albums would make the cut, Noyan quickly scooped up dibs.
Despite my apologies to you, the reader, for not identifying a metal album as expected, I am completely unapologetic for my enjoyment of UK indie pop act The 1975. With an over-the-top and flamboyant aesthetic and “edgy” sense of self-indulgence aside, I Like It When You Sleep is an infectious collection of 80’s worship that just won’t quit. Truth be told, I listened to The 1975’s debut album last year more than any other record, if only for the fact that this band writes the catchiest songs around. Think INXS, but with an even better sense of songwriting and use of sonic texture; The 1975 are the unabashed torchbearers of new wave, and with a load of shoegaze influence, you’ve got a formula for rock success. They’ve somehow expanded upon the success of their debut to drop into even spacier territory on I Like It When You Sleep, with the songs gradually dipping out into extended atmospheric instrumentals as the album progresses.
I realize that I’ve already lost most of you, so I’ll just leave you with the Duran Duran ode “The Sound” and a plea to keep an open mind. If you enjoy Sigur Ros, CHVRCHES, David Bowie, and The Cure, you’ll enjoy this. Like it or not, you could do much worse for Baby’s First Shoegaze Record.
Moon Tooth – Chromaparagon
Like others in our editorial staff, I found the month of February to be somewhat lacking in albums that have blown me away compared to the juggernaut that was January (seriously, what was up with that?). The new GoGo Penguin likely would’ve been my first choice for this month if it weren’t already the topic of discussion for our upcoming Jazz Club. There were also excellent non-metal releases from Venetian Snares (which I also recently wrote up) and violinist Sarah Neufeld (which I will write up in the next Unmetal Monday). With wanting to keep this in the realm of metal as much as possible though, I found myself at a bit of a loss initially until I remembered that technically Moon Tooth’s excellent debut LP Chromaparagon was released in February despite me being exposed to it well before that.
Chromaparagon is the sound of a band high on ambition, influence, and eclecticism but with an exceedingly confident grounding in their fundamental sound and identity. Describing what that sound is exactly in a few words can prove to be difficult (some weird amalgamation of sludge, bluesy southern rock, compact hard/alt rock, with some smatterings of muscular progressive metal ala Mastodon for good measure), but it’s one that is undeniably their own. The band (in a video interview I conducted with them that will go live soon) credits this to their own wide range of likes and influences that each member brings to the table but with a solid enough range of music and bands they mutually love to keep the entire thing grounded. The result is a set of songs that move and groove with impressive ferocity and technicality couched in fun catchiness that will keep you coming back time and time again.
The band is simply overflowing with talent, from the soulful, if not atypical, crooning of singer John Carbone, to the lockstep and impressively diverse performances of drummer Ray Marte and bassist Vin Romanelli, and of course the shredding force that is guitarist Nick Lee. This combination of forces is a winning formula for them, and it’s one that is already garnering them heaps of critical praise and attention. It would not surprise me at all to see Chromaparagon make it onto many establishment rock and metal publication’s year-end lists this year as the consensus “breakthrough” pick, and it would shock me if they weren’t signed to a large label by year’s end. They’re built for success, and I have a strong feeling Chromaparagon will only be the first of many great releases for this band of buds from Long Island.
Obscura – Akroasis
I mean, is anyone really surprised that this is my pick for the month? Obscura are one of my favorite bands, and this album is fucking amazing like the rest of their work. Progressive death metal with a cosmosophic bent, this German masterpiece defines new standards for the genre. Combining Tom “Fountainhead” Geldschlager’s fretless guitar work and fusion influences to create a sound that hasn’t been used in the genre before, and combined with the framework of the band that has been established over past albums, the end result is simply delightful. Each track offers a new twist on the formula, and there’s always something interesting going on. The 15 minute magnum opus “Weltseele”, the old school death metal worship of “Sermon of the Seven Suns”, the mellow yet complex title track, this album is surprisingly diverse despite being so focused and tight. There’s more to be said, but I’ve said a lot of it in my review, so I won’t ramble on – you should just go listen to Akroasis instead, as it’s a strong contender for my album of the year already
Skáphe – Skáphe²
Honestly, I spent most of this month daydreaming about some of the excellent releases dropping in March and beyond. February kind of let me down in terms of quality; Quilt was pretty good, DIIV was alright and Animal Collective may retain the title of “biggest disappointment of 2016” for the remainder of the year. But then pretty much out of nowhere, a post from a friend on my wall reminded of Skáphe, a project that released one of my favorite black metal albums of 2014. It felt like project mastermind Alex Poole listened to all of the most raw, sinister black metal available and said “Fuck this noise; I can do better.” I immediately followed the Bandcamp link and prepared to listen Skáphe² with high expectations.
I won’t rehash my review here, but I will add that adrenaline launched through my veins at the :33 mark in opening track “I.” The way that Poole builds enormous tension with his ambient hellscapes before launching into pummeling BM riffs would be perfect on its own, but the vocals provided by up-and-coming BM genius D.G. elevate everything to lower circle of punishment. There’s really no convincing reason for a BM fan to go through this year without spinning this record; anyone who does is doing themselves a huge disservice.
Divine Realm – Tectum Argenti
It’s not often these days that interesting and groovy instrumental music makes its way into our ears. The last major players on the instrumental scene that were really special (to me, anyway), were Animals As Leaders with their self-titled debut in 2009, Outrun the Sunlight with Terrapin in 2014, and last year’s Pomegranate Tiger record, Boundless. Enter Divine Realm with their 2016 full-length, Tectum Argenti, and we have a brand new, flavorful gift in the world of instrumental heavy metal. Calling things “djent” may seem blasé these days, but Divine Realm are well aware that the relatively new genre needed a little something and have managed to craft a delectable medley of interesting and engaging riffs to keep listeners well entertained.
Tectum Argenti may not necessarily be anything “new,” but it’s certainly solid enough to be worth a listen for instrumental fans, those still into djent grooves, or those just looking for something in the same vein as Pomegranate Tiger. Recommended and worth your time.