Well, this is it, folks: October’s here to cap off the year with the final month replete with more albums than is seemingly possible to digest in the time allotted in the Gregorian tradition. Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Hey! November and December exist!” Indeed they do; no disagreement here. Mainstream music journalists, however? Not so much. As you’ve probably noticed on year end lists in the past few years, album released in the latter half of the fourth quarter often miss submission deadlines, leaving shoe-ins like Baroness‘s Purple out of the running. Bands and labels seem to have caught wind of this, and save for some notable exceptions coming out later this year (i.e. The Faceless), most labels reserve their last hurrahs for October, avoiding the distractions of the the holidays and ensuring zines and blogs don’t overlook some key albums.
None of this affects us here at Heavy blog, for he most part; we purposefully delay our year end list as long as possible so we can ensure our staff has heard everything they’d been anticipating. However, this becomes incredibly relevant when it comes to our conversations about October releases, particularly with out Editors’ Picks columns. as you’ll see below, we not only have an incredible list of albums to recommend this month, our writers had a lot to say about their top picks of he month. And while we wish the blogosphere as a whole would craft AOTY lists that cover the whole year, we’re certainly not going to complain about the October explosion its created, and after you dive into our picks for the month, we anticipate you won’t either.
Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper (funeral doom)
One-track albums have always been somewhat of a gimmick in metal. With a few notable (but also highly debatable) and recent exceptions like Sleep’s Dopesmoker, Gorguts’ Pleiades’ Dust, and somewhat less universally Insomnium’s Winter’s Gate, the one-track record is a surefire way to generate early buzz that very rarely leads to any sort of meaningful payoff. Not so with Bell Witch’s stunning, career re-defining new album Mirror Reaper. Clocking in at 83-minutes in length and consisting of one song that is split into two thematic parts, titled “As Above” and “So Below” respectively, the album is enough to try the patience of even the most loyal and funeral doom metal fans. But the rewards for the patient are great indeed.
Consisting of Dylan Desmond on bass and newcomer Jesse Shreibman on drums and shared vocal duties, the album is a meditation on grief of such magnitude and power that I genuinely cannot recall a listening experience like it. The genesis of this grief exists outside the mainly theoretical or philosophical, but is instead utterly drenched in the personal. Last year, the band’s former drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra died in his sleep. The pain of that loss and the aftermath that followed is legible in every tear-stained page of musical notes this album reads to us with clarity and vibrancy. The bass, always revered in doom circles as some of the clearest and most unique in the subgenre, is more vital and vibrant than ever before. Shreibman’s drums pound and lunge in and out of incredibly slow time signatures, never once losing their truly thunderous edge. Vocals, shared by Shriebman, Desmond, Erik Moggridge of Aerial Ruin, and an absolutely chilling inclusion of clips from Guerra’s vocals sessions for previous album Four Phantoms, are equal parts clear/beautiful and guttural/tragic. All of these elements are sealed together beautifully by Billy Anderson’s stellar production. The song cycles and repeats through its themes without once, at least to me, feeling anything less than utterly focused and propulsive.
On the whole, Mirror Reaper is a fantastic album that, understandably, many will dislike. The run-time presents significant barriers to hearing the album in its entirety in one sitting. It’s essentially the equivalent of sitting through a movie. But with all its cumbersome weight, I strongly encourage you to do just that. Pour a glass of your favorite scotch, dim the lights, put this record on and allow yourself to be truly transported. If you give it the time it deserves, you may find yourself moved in new and profound ways.
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Dreadnought – A Wake In Sacred Waves (progressive doom metal)
Dreadnought is one of those bands whose brilliance is exceedingly difficult to convey in simple terms, at least by metal standards. The band’s fusion of doom metal’s ponderous and pendulous tones and tempos, black metal’s ecstatic and cathartic emotion, 70s progressive and psychedelic rock’s unpredictability and immersion, and (good) modern progressive metal’s heterodoxy and willingness to exist on the edges of things is a musical concoction that is ripe for total and complete failure. On paper at least, this Denver quartet stuff so many ideas and influences into what they do that it should be little more than sonic mush or at least schizophrenic collage, a patchwork of sounds that all attempt to do big things but collectively sound like an incoherent mess. And this is all before mentioning that the music features frequent atmospheric breaks for woodwinds. Oh, and also that each album of theirs thus far has been inspired by the classic mythic elements of earth, space/ether, and water (with fire surely not far behind).
For each of the items I just listed in the paragraph above, we have dozens upon dozens of examples of albums that have attempted to do any number of these things and failed miserably. For a band to attempt all of these things and produce one great debut album in Lifewoven was impressive. To have a band do all these things produce an even better sophomore album in Bridging Realms was incredible. And to have a band do all these things and somehow manage to create an even sharper, more vivacious, and emotionally-gripping album in A Wake In Sacred Waves is cause to consider if what we’re witnessing might be the work of one of the most elite bands working in metal and music today. The fact that the wider metal community and publications are only just starting to catch on now is solely their own faults, because all they had to do was listen briefly to any of the band’s previous work to understand that something different and special was afoot.
That being said, A Wake In Sacred Waves deserves every single positive review and accolade it garners as an impeccable piece of art that flows seamlessly between its myriad states for over 50 minutes and a slim 4 tracks. The compositions strike the perfect balance of intensity, depth, serenity, and beauty, providing the emotional space for lead vocalist/guitarist/flutist Kelly Schilling to sing her siren songs and pull the listener in before unleashing hell and fury in bouts of piercing shrieks and screams. Lauren Vieira’s gorgeous piano work and backing vocals provide the perfect backdrop for everything, from jazzy swing-like motifs to sci-fi oddity and ethereal blankets of sound. Kevin Handlon’s brilliant bass work is an integral force in that seamless movement from crushingly heavy doom to feather-light prog folk. And Jordan Clancy continues to excel at double duty on holding the entire thing together rhythmically on drums while providing the sax that often forms the beating heart of the band’s quieter sections. For anyone who dreams of heavy music that is complex and emotionally-resonant while somehow managing to steer far away from the pitfalls and well-worn cliches that have snared countless (and often far more popular) progressive groups, this quartet should be nothing short of a breath of fresh air. Or in the case of this album, the coolest, most refreshing drink of water imaginable.
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Milton Man Gogh – Stress to Impress (experimental jazz)
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Colin Stetson became best friends with Meshuggah/Nica Group’s Dick Lövgren and decided to write an experimental post jazz album together, wonder no more. Milton Man Gough are an experimental jazz group from Australia who recently formed “as an outlet to perform compositions that no one else wanted to”. While their name may be derived from the quintessential Australian beer, XXXX Bitter, the group offer an extremely diverse and downright gripping aural experience. Their debut release; ‘Stress to Impress’ is a prime reflection of the cultural jazz movement that is quite literally bursting from the seams of Brisbane city. Championed largely by a number of prominent figures from Brisbane’s Jazz Music Institute, the area is seeing a huge boom in jazz music which has already attracted many well-known international jazz artists and the burgeoning interests of venue owners and patrons alike.
Ranging from contemplative, almost smoke-laden saxophone lines, to ominous chaotic atonality, to incredibly moving melodic passages (Unexpected Virtues) that prompt a heightened anticipation for where the music will go next. Milton Man Gogh excel at creating a diverse palate of emotions through frequent but deliberate changes in phrasing and playing dynamics. The sludge-ridden double-bass lines and aggressive, percussive insanity juxtapose almost too-perfectly with the many genuinely beautiful moments which catch the listener entirely off-guard, simultaneously becoming aware of the goosebumps running down their arm and the single tear welling in their eye. Thankfully this kind of experience is extended, if not greatly amplified throughout the band’s live performance. Playing both live and in studio with an unmistakable prowess, the band has garnered a lot of attention from fans of their other projects, with MMG being the perfect amalgamation of each member’s overwhelming experience and talent. This record is hopefully a clear indication of the kinds of music to expect from Australia’s jazz scene, and is well worth exploring for anyone with even the slightest appreciation for the genre.
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Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing (death metal, death-doom)
Most of the entries on this list are particularly long this month, so I’m going to keep my words relatively short and sweet when it comes to Spectral Voice. After four long years spent marinating and the filth and grime of the Denver underground, doing splits and demos here and there, these motherfucking masters of grim, evil death metal (to see another example of their phenomenal songwriting ability, check out sister band Blood Incantation, as both groups share three out of four members) have finally put out their first LP, and dear lord, is it a doozy.
What makes Eroded Corridors such a joy of an album is the way that Spectral Voice switches back and forth so fluidly between channeling overbearing chthonic psychedelia in their moments of relative calm and creating Chicxulub-sized, splatter-painted-with-blood, truly visceral riffs that smash into the listener at mach 6. Both parts are excellent in their own right, but the cosmos-realigning whiplash that occurs in the shift from one mode to another is where this band truly shines. A must-listen for death metal fans, and undoubtedly an instant death-doom classic.
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St. Vincent – Masseduction (art pop, synth pop)
We understandably view our favorite current artists’ discographies as linear progressions. It’s certainly natural to compare an album to those that preceded it, both in overall quality and how the evolution/devolution in sound bodes for the artist’s future. Yet, on the contrary, this mindset is admittedly rigid, giving little leeway to eclectic discographies and musical exploration. Prolific and varied artists that regularly deviate from their core sound challenge fans to abandon this linear framework and adopt a more individualistic style of analysis. Even artists who make an unexpected change after a steady track record deserve a fair shot; an album straying from the norm isn’t an automatic flaw, after all. As unfortunate as it may be for some fans to have to acclimate themselves to new sonic directions, it’s unfair for fans to place excessive weight on digression and remain unwilling to judge the music on its own merits.
With the release of Masseduction‘s lead single, “New York,” Annie Clark welcomed the aforementioned doubts and speculations, filling fans with doubts if her repeated instance to “fear the future” foreshadowed the quality of her upcoming output under the St. Vincent name. The panic wasn’t entirely unwarranted given the natural progression Clark had been developing since debuting with Marry Me a decade ago. Her charming and textured approach to indie pop began slowly taking more shades of art rock across her following tow albums, with the baroque and progressive leanings of Actor (2009) evolving into a full-blown experimental rock masterpiece with Strange Mercy (2011). After collaborating with David Byrne in 2012 for Love This Giant, Clark’s adoration of Talkings Heads became as apparent as ever on her 2014 self-titled album, which demonstrated a perfection of her craft and a fearlessness fans only assumed would lead to an even more ambitious album a few years down the line.
Which is why “New York” left many fans puzzled and concerned for the future. After three years of anticipation, the last things fans expected was a short, piano-driven pop ballad featuring production credits from Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and Fun fame. And while the ensuing teaser tracks “Los Ageless” and “Pills” proved more divisive in their reception, fans seemed to generally be remaining cautious of what Clark had in store on Masseduction. As we covered earlier, it was difficult for fans to divorce the “art” from her “art pop” past and enjoy the pop sensibilities she seemed to be wholeheartedly embracing.
This feeling may not have subsided for some after Masseduction dropped, but for fans like myself, there was an immense benefit to be reaped from the simple act of approaching Masseduction as an individual statement from Clark and not an album locked into the trajectory of the St. Vincent discography. Because other than the unfeeling march of time, there’s nothing about Masseduction that warrants direct comparison to the journey Clark’s taken over the last four albums. Sure, fans craving another artsy installment will gripe at this new straightforward sound; in all honesty, I myself was hoping for a continuation on what St. Vincent had to offer. But none of this detracts from the fact that Masseduction is well-executed on every level and contains some of Clark’s best songs to date. It truly is a detour for Clark’s work as St. Vincent, and judged solely on the quality of its thirteen tracks, the album is unquestionably one of the most colorful and cerebral pop records of the decade, as well as a shining testament how to make “smart” pop music with deflating any the genre’s penchant for fun and exuberance.
Masseduction is 80s revival through and through, from the clever lyrical cues taken from Prince to Talking Heads’ poppier moments from Remain in Light onward. After a slow burning Cure-esque introduction courtesy of “Hang on Me,” Clark proves her ambition is still as fervent as ever with satirical cut “Pills.” Complete with snarky jabs at the pharmaceutical industry and equally tongue-in-cheek performances, Clark weaves expertly through irony-tinged jangle pop before bringing the track to a dramatic close, aided by Kamasi Washington‘s everflowing stream of saxophone greatness. The title track keeps things moving with an electric, raunchy performance that feels like the most danceable Talking Heads remix you’ve never heard. It’s a shining example that Clark’s bolstered affinity for electronics in no way replaced her creativity and strengths as a songwriter, as is the infectious proto-disco anthem “Sugarboy.” She hasn’t lost her guitar chops either, as is evident by moments such as the slick, posh riff on “Los Ageless” and nimble playfulness on “Savior.”
As “New York” suggested, there are a handful of ballads on the record, and while I personally enjoyed what the track had to offer, it’s easily overshadowed by some truly gorgeous slow songs that are easily some of the best emotional tracks Clark has ever written. “Happy Birthday, Johnny” feels like a more sentimental take on Clark’s New York-based reminiscing, with raw lyrics yearning for a past love over minimal piano chords and tasteful ambient instrumentation in the background. And while it may seem odd of Clark to end a St. Vincent record without an explosive final moment, she opts for a one-two punch of emotion with a pair of stirring ballads. Joy Williams of The Civil Wars joins Clark for an incredibly moving performance on “Slow Disco,” with the duo trading verses over exceptionally arranged strings. And “Smoking Section” takes a page out of the Father John Misty playbook, producing an airtight composition that makes each element feel organic and singular while producing an extraordinary whole.
As Clark harmonizes with herself over pedal steel guitar on “Smoking Section” to conclude the album, it’s difficult to make the case that she’s lost any of the magic that made her a rising indie force in the first place. She may be directing her writing in a slightly different direction, but it’s by all account an adjacent sonic move, and more importantly, she’s maintained all of the quality fans have come to expect from a St. Vincent record. That’s not to say acclimating to Masseduction is entirely unnecessary; even though my opinion of the album has obviously landed somewhere in the “raving acclaim” category, it took some dedicated listening to parse out what Clark has presented on the album. But it’s releases like these that should challenge fans to give artists they love the freedom to change course if they deem it necessary and then follow through by giving the resulting album a fair shot on its own merits. It may make sense for our analyses to naturally shift toward a direct, linear comparison, but it’s records like Masseduction that make us realize the limits of that view, and more importantly, change isn’t always a reason to fear the future.
Trivium – The Sin and the Sentence (melodic metalcore)
It’s hard to overstate how happy I am with this album. It’s no secret that Trivium are my favorite band, but that actually puts more of a burden on this album instead of elevating it for me. After Silence in the Snow it was easy to be afraid of what the future brought for the band. They were displaying a trend towards simpler songs, more repetitions of choruses and less focus on interesting instrumental work. Well, thankfully, with The Sin And The Sentence they went almost exactly in the opposite direction.
Honestly, I don’t think even the most optimistic fans expected an album this good from the band at this point. Sure, they could have made something that wasn’t a huge disappointment, but this record is way beyond that. It can even be considered as a contender for the position of their best yet. The songwriting is very diverse, having something for fans of every era of the band and also pushing them forward with a lot of promise for their future. After their eighth album no less!
It’s not just the inclusion of drummer Alex Bent, whose tech death tendencies make the album so much more energetic (though it helps), but it’s the band seemingly having finally figured out what actually makes their sound tick. It seemed for a while that the band was going through an identity crisis, and finally they’ve gathered together every ounce of creativity they’ve had and harnessed it very efficiently. There are riffs upon riffs, vocal hooks, drum fills, solos, and so much more. Basically, everything the band is known for is here, and it’s almost assuredly better than ever. Any fan of their work is definitely obliged to pay attention here.
Xanthochroid – “Of Erthe and Axen” Act II (progressive black metal)
Melodrama is an essential part of metal. In the face of the detachment and ironic sneer with which large swathes of music listeners handle their music, both in the 80’s when the genre was born and today when it is mainstream, metal often displays the passion of the zealot. Commitment, depth, attention to detail and an overwhelming tendency to a wide and fluctuating emotional spectrum are some of the hallmarks of the genre.
When these get taken out of context and out of measure, they create the most frustrating and negative trends in the metal community. They lead to elitism and close minded perspectives. But when they are channeled into the music, they have the ability to craft albums which truly move the listener. Which is exactly what Xanthochroid do and have been able to achieve during their career. Of Erthe and Axen Act II, bringing to a close the epic that began a few months ago with the release of the first act, once again marries the furious heights of black metal’s expressiveness with a flair for the melodramatic that begs comparisons to musicals and classical composition.
The basic idea of Act II should be familiar to everyone who knows something about the band; the string parts are massive and cheesy, the vocals move between emotion-fueled choirs and shrill screeches and the production emphasis delivery over accuracy. But Act II, in bringing to a close their most ambitious release yet, also goes a long way in cementing the importance of this underrated band. It is an extremely self-aware album that knows exactly when to reference itself and how to do it. New themes are introduced but old ones recur from the first release in a meaningful and interesting way. It’s heavier than the first one, with the aggressive passages more prolonged, but it’s not heavier for heavy’s sake. It’s heavier because that’s what the story and the album demand of the music, because it fits the epic picture the album is trying to paint. Everything has purpose, which is something rare in releases of this melodramatic tinge.
That’s always been the allure of Xanthochroid for me. Somehow, even though the music itself is grandiose and over the top, there isn’t a single hint of misplaced angst or an amatuer attitude about it. Rather, the band’s professionalism and unmistakable dedication to their music makes everything work. It really, really shouldn’t; like a huge cake overburdened with sugary filigree, it should crash and burn. But not only does Of Erthe and Axen not crash, it soars. It’s one of the most impressive albums of recent years and a perfect example of how powerful metal can be.
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And So I Watch You From Afar – The Endless Shimmering (math rock, post-rock)
After two albums of moving away from their original harder edge towards poppier aesthetics – one album which was wildly successful and the other which perhaps tried too hard to thread the needle between those two sounds – math/post-rock pack leaders And So I Watch You From Afar have truly returned back to their roots with The Endless Shimmering while throwing in a few new tricks, producing their most aggressive album in years and a strong candidate for best overall (as long as you can get past the artwork).
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Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome (art rock, contemporary folk)
Much like Xanthochroid, of which I wrote above, Cavanagh’s release handles heights of passion while somehow remaining cohesive and intimate. It’s a powerful release by one of the most veteran members of the metal and progressive rock scene, solidifying him as one of the most talented composers to ever grace it. Bring tissues.
Primitive Man – Caustic (blackened sludge metal)
You are drowning in a pool of freshly laid asphalt, the heat melting your skin and the crushing weight compressing your chest and snapping every bone in your body. This is how listening to this record feels. 77-minutes of unadulterated, nihilistic heaviness that is as mesmerizing as it is intimidating. An impressive and utterly evil achievement by these Denver doomers.
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SEIMS – 3 (experimental rock, math rock)
Using the CMYK color model as inspiration, the third album from this Sydney-based progressive/math-rock unit is likely one of the most out of left-field things you are likely to hear this year just based on the sheer breadth of musical terrain covered in just over a half hour. Hell, just listen to the first track “Cyan” and try not to get musical whiplash with a huge smile planted on your face. And then listen to the rest of the album and repeat multiple times until you don’t think you can smile any longer.
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Small Leaks Sink Ships – Golden Calf (indie rock)
Indie rock out of Portland, Oregon that is as good as anything else you will hear this year. Take the oddness of Yeasayer, mix it with the sunny disposition of Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective with a small dash of Why? and you have yourself one helluva record. Don’t sleep on this band.
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Spires of the Lunar Sphere – SIREN (take the fair face of woman and gently suspending with butterflies flowers and jewels attending thus your fairy be made of most wondrous things) (avant-garde metal)
This ridiculous Floridian duo is the only band that’s ever earned a right to have an album name this long. Imagine early-proto deathcore a la The Red Chord and first-album Between the Buried and Me fed through the Mario Paint MIDI program, raised on a healthy diet of Nintendo 64 cartridges and steroids, and played by myspace-mathcore-emo bands like The Number 12 Looks Like You and The Fall of Troy. Yeah, it’s… something. Anyone who wants to have their opinions on how much a single album can get away with owes it to themselves to scope this wacked-out wonderland.
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Wobbler – From Silence to Somewhere (prog rock, symphonic rock)
Some bands are all about just doing their thing and that’s really great. In Wobbler’s case, that thing is bringing back the glory days of King Crimson, Genesis, early Yes and other progressive rock bands of their ilk. On their latest release, they continue to delve deep into those influences and bring forth an expansive and mind-altering progressive rock album to bear. Synth tones for days.
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Altarage – Endinghent (death metal)
Amenra – Mass VI (post-metal)
August Burns Red – Phantom Anthem (melodic metalcore)
The Black Dahlia Murder – Nightbringers (melodic death metal)
Coma Cluster Void – Thoughts From a Stone (avant-garde tech death)
Destroyer – ken (art pop, indie pop)
Enslaved – E (blackened prog metal)
Fever Ray – Plunge (art pop, darkwave)
King Krule – The Ooz (art rock)
Krallice with Dave Edwardson – Loüm (avant-garde metal, prog metal)
Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is (nu-disco, progressive electronic)
Opium Eater – ENNUI (progressive stoner metal)
Slowly Building Weapons – Sunbirds (blackened hardcore)
TippWerk – Exotics (math rock, prog fusion)
Yellow Eyes – Immersion Trench Reverie (black metal)