With so much great music out there and so much music that our staff reviews (and plenty that we don’t), it can be difficult to keep up with it all and determine which releases are the most worth your time. Harnessing the wide-ranging and diverse tastes of our editorial staff, our monthly Editors’ Picks column is our gift to you to guide you towards the music that’s impacting us the most. You can read our picks from previous months right here.
So, April has come and gone and now spring is here in earnest. While there was definitely a slow down in the SHEER VOLUME of releases from April, there definitely wasn’t a decline in quality. May brought us some of our favorite albums from 2016 so far and some which are certain to feature on high spots in our end of year lists. Speaking of which, next month we won’t be doing an Editors’ Picks or rather, we will but it will be a special, Worth Your Time in 2016 so far edition. In the meantime, let’s dig in to this month’s selection, featuring some heavy, some sad and, mainly, a whole lot of excellent.
Vektor – Terminal Redux
Years after their last outing, it wasn’t difficult for me to get enthusiastic for a new Vektor record. Despite being nearly 5 years since they released Outer Isolation, I had a strange feeling that they would be outdoing themselves on a massive scale. That much time away had given the band time to really dig deep and write a record that exemplified what really great metal music is. With Terminal Redux, the band not only lived up to the hype, but completely exceeded it. From the moment the album starts, everything quickly falls into place. The riffs are quick and technically flawless, the vocals are improved and serve as a focal point for the songs’ choruses, and the mix is spot on. Everything about this record is a cut above for both the band and the genre.
Given the length of this record, it’s hard to imagine every song being worth your time. However, after one listen you will find that is not the case, with every song equally as important to the musical story the record is telling. Songs such as “Collapse” and “Charging The Void” demonstrate how talented this band is, and how important they are to the current metal community. This record is not only the pinnacle of their career, but it’s an important stepping stone for them to reach new heights as a band. With Terminal Redux, the band has demonstrated that they have serious staying power, and they have become a force to be reckoned with the world over.
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
At this point in their career, Gorguts are an extreme metal institution. Without even considering their 2013 comeback album Colored Sands (which was better than it had any business being), their discography has become a blueprint for the future of death metal, where murky atmosphere, esoteric aesthetic, and high-brained technical prowess are celebrated. Now, after almost three decades since their foundation, they’ve managed to create their most ambitious release to date, Pleiades’ Dust. This monolithic half-hour of material explores a number of vignettes that shift and evolve through odd-ball riffing, pensive instrumental passages, and terrifying cacophony.
It’s hard to imagine such challenging music to be so engaging at such an epic length, but the songwriting on behalf of Luc Lemay is expertly crafted and planned so that there is never an opportunity for fatigue; moments of forward aggression and brutality naturally flow in and out of new and exciting melodies and ideas. A brief respite comes in the form of a droning interlude in the track’s second half (presumably the perfect spot for flipping sides on the vinyl), that lulls the listener into a darker, Lovecraft-spirited dirge that caps the track at just over a half hour.
This grandiose undertaking is yet another staple from Gorguts that betters the realm of forward thinking extreme metal. Gorguts are undisputed progenitors of a generation of progressive death metal acts — perhaps second in importance only to Death itself — and are partly responsible for a number of acts we adore today, like Obscura, Mitochondrion, and Ulcerate, and there’s still much to be said about how they can manage to inform and then return to lead an entire music scene. Pleiades’ Dust is a powerful testament to not only Gorguts’ relevancy as they approach 30 years of service, but to their growing legacy of one of the most important metal acts of all time.
First Fragment – Dasein
Rarely is it the case that one waits for an album for five years and it actually delivers. This band of French Canadian misfits have somehow delivered a phenomenal tech death album that stands out in the same year Obscura released their new album. Dasein is pure distilled riffery, without any self-indulgent grandiosity or strained attempts at brutality. Combining the catchy streak of the better Gorod albums, the ferocity of Beneath the Massacre and the general feel of their regional scene, Dasein is a ridiculous debut album that shows First Fragment is bursting with skill and potential.
From the moment you press play, the ridiculous playing will hit you like a punch in the face and it will just keep going. Every moment is memorable for a listener who wants melody, but it’s also fascinating for musicians. It also avoids the trappings that most other albums in the same genre can’t, which is not being overwhelming when listened in succession. In fact, it never really gets old – personally, I’ve spent 4 hour blocks just listening to the album on repeat. For days on end. So if you like tech death, or even just remotely melodic death metal, this album contains something for you.
Kvelertak – Nattesferd
Simon was going to write this one up himself, but unfortunately he’s feeling a bit under the weather and is sitting this one out (RIP Simon Handspanker). Fortunately for him the intrepid Norwegian Kvelertak’s third album, Nattesferd, would have been my pick if he hadn’t initially swooped in and claimed it. Our editor-in-chief Jimmy wasn’t entirely exuberant in his review of the album, but I agree with him on a few points. Their sophomore album Meir’s greatest fault was that it took the exciting formula thrown down on the band’s debut and didn’t do much to advance it. And while Nattesferd certainly doesn’t throw away the classic Kvelertak playbook – beefy, classic rock and metal riffs over fist-pumping choruses, all filtered through black metal vocals and undertones – it absolutely pushes past the realm of malaise into some new and truly exciting directions.
Channeling a freewheeling brightness and love of feel-good vibes, the band appear to finally give next to zero fucks about being “brutal” and “trve” enough to appease the skeptics, instead delivering us sun-speckled jams like “1985,” “Nattesferd,” “Ondskapens Galakse,” and, of course, the incredibly epic and masterful “Hekesbrann.” These days the band probably sound far closer to Fucked Up – the Canadian hardcore band who has similarly utterly annihilated any genre restrictions with the incorporation of classic rock, prog, psych rock, and plenty more – than pretty much any of their fellow Nordic metal peers. The band still can go hard as hell when they want, but more than ever, listening to Kvelertak is an instant party and thrill ride. Nattesferd may wind up being a transition album, as Jimmy noted, but that’s not a negative here. The band are at their best when they use whatever influences are best to carry their weighty riffs and hooks, and on that end, Nattesferd is undoubtedly their most varied and adventurous album to date.
Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
The dream of the nineties is alive and well in…Philadelphia. Taking some of the best aspects of alt-rock from the era – simple and immediate songs tinged with raw emotional vulnerability, heavier and gritty sounds rumbling underneath, and catchy-as-hell progressions and hooks – it’s easy to paint Nothing as not much more than a nineties throwback band. At least in their earlier work and on their debut LP Guilty of Everything the band played up their louder, brasher edge to set them clearly apart from their shoegazing peers. The most immediately striking thing about their followup to that though, Tired of Tomorrow, is how little the band appear to be interested in continuing to define themselves as a “heavy shoegaze” band – even as they continue to be represented on the Relapse roster. There are certainly hints of it in the grungy riffs of “Curse of the Sun” and “Eaten by Worms,” but Tired of Tomorrow is by far more defined by smooth mid-tempo jams and delicate ballads like “The Dead Are Dumb,” “Vertigo Flowers,” “Nineteen Ninety Heaven,” and “Everyone Is Happy.” At times the band sound far closer to indie shoegaze soft-rockers Real Estate than any of their labelmates.
All of which could be construed as a criticism, but is in fact the opposite. By doubling down on the kind of stripped-down and immediately emotive songwriting that made those bands of the nineties – Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, etc. – so great to begin with, Nothing have been able to take their own voice and distill it into its most effective vehicle yet. “Our Plague” is a perfect example of the band at the current height of their power as a hybrid group, spending the first ⅔ of the track floating along a dreamily melancholy melody before exploding into a more typically sludgy and heavy groove at the climax. And closing track “Tired of Tomorrow” does it one better, starting as a moody and simple piano ballad and swelling into a lush string-filled track before simply dissipating back into the void. Nothing’s genre-agnosticism has become their greatest asset, one that allows them to explore any kind of song they want and know they can pull out heavy, headbanging sounds at the most effective moments without being beholden to them. Tired of Tomorrow won’t provide the same freewheeling jolt of energy that Guilty of Everything did, but it’ll almost certainly leave a more lasting impression.
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts
There really wasn’t an option for me, this month. I had such insanely high hopes for The Fall of Hearts and it smashed every single one of them. Where I had hoped to get another, classically great album from Katatonia, I got a completely different and even more wonderful thing. I got Katatonia reaching beyond what they were and remaking what they are. I got an album that is somehow familiar while being so different, soft and welcoming while being challenging. By introducing new sounds into their music but keeping the basic timbre and themes which made them famous, Katatonia are able to grab us all by our ears and drag us upwards to new places.
What I would like to shine a specific light on with this entry is how well this album is aging. I’m now well past my thirtieth listen and the album is, by now, intimately familiar to me. It keeps growing instead of fading, increasing the original sheen which drew me to even though I was unable to understand it, at first. Small moments, especially the synths writhing across the base of all of the tracks, keep unfolding to my ears. These interact in amazing ways with the more obvious part of the album and elevate them into even greater beauty.
I’m not going to describe the album again, here. There’s the review for that. But a quality I couldn’t cover in my review is this growth. That’s the mark of a true masterpiece, a monumental marking stone in the life of a band and a genre. It is my firm belief that The Fall of Hearts will only continue to unravel itself to me and become grander as time passes by. I hope to be proven right and to be able to perhaps catch Katatonia live, as they’ve proven themselves to be one of the most important bands operating in our scene today.
Sioum – Yet Further
Sioum’s Yet Further is both an exploration of the medium of music and, moreover, an exploration of one’s tumultuous inner workings in their darkest, most fragile moments. The anxiety-ridden, driven riffs of the Chicago trio traverse a dark, mysterious path in this galvanized study of electronic-heavy post-rock befit for a dystopian cyberpunk film noir. The steady pace and mindful changes make Yet Further a record that is quite easy to sit back and be embraced in, but also one that will reward cautious and attentive listeners who actively engage in the experience provided.
These balances and changes make Yet Further an album which can be introverted and thoughtful at times but also intensely groovy and forward-moving at others. It’s a truly unique piece of writing that, while relying on sounds from its sub-genre, has its own specific timbre which is quite hard to place your finger on. It’s equal parts chunky synths, delay-pedal laden guitars and expansive composition. What’s sure is that Sioum own that sound completely, exploring every nook and cranny for what it’s worth. That’s a very refreshing thing to hear, as many bands are simply content with showmanship and flair. Here, there is true dedication behind the sound and the desire to make the most out of it.
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Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
In his review for the latest album from The Field (Axel Willner), Philip Sherburne referenced the decorative nature of Erik Satie’s “furniture music” and expanded his description of Willner’s music to include emobidment of the entire room. While neither solo piano works nor ambient techno describe Radiohead’s latest offering, the labels offered by Sherburne encompass the complex atmosphere conjured by A Moon Shaped Pool. In summation, Sherburne meant that Satie’s piano works poignantly accent the listener’s pallette with textured compositional notes, while Willner’s work through The Field creates an encompassing void through which the listener can be thoroughly consumed. While everything on A Moon Shaped Pool is very clearly “Radiohead,” a marriage of these two approaches is clearly afoot.
Other than the incredible opener “Burn the Witch” – an exceptional outlier that marries tense orchestral elements with Thom Yorke’s high pitched musings – the album wobbles between Satie and Willner in a perplexing manner. Through ballads and Kid A-esque meditations, the band manages to consume the listener in atmosphere while texturing their compositions with copious amounts of detail. This makes for an album that chooses to stun the listener on the initial listen before revealing itself over the course of a significant period of sonic reflection. Some moments clearly structure a room of atmospheric excellence, whereas others mark their territory within the intrigue of additional blueprint scribbles. If the album confuses the listener on first listen, then the natural order has been sustained; this isn’t an album meant for digestion on first listen. It’s not as immediately brilliant as Kid A or OK Computer, but it’s structured in such a way that further revelation is filled with as much radiance as the aforementioned classics. What A Moon Shaped Pool lacks in immediacy it more than makes up in depth; if you can venture out of the shallow end, the waters discovered through drowning will pay off through the light shimmering upon the dismal waters.
Other Notable Releases:
Sylvaine – Wistful
Frost – Falling Satellites
Vainaja – Verenvalaja
Enthean – Priests of Annihilation
Goodbye, Titan – Daedalus
Binary Code – Moonsblood
Withered – Grief Relic
The Schoenberg Automaton – Apus