You’ve seen it. You’ve debated it. You’ve cried over it. But what’s done is done: Our list of the best albums of the year is behind us, and there is much rejoicing. But what about the albums we loved that didn’t make the final cut? For those of you who have read Noyan’s previous column regarding the methodology behind our AOTY piece, it’s pretty obvious that not every album in our personal year-end selections made our aggregate list. Amidst the clamor, general consternation, and calls for Nick’s head, we decided to create a space for our writers to choose an album from their personal year-end list that didn’t make the cut to highlight. With this spirit in tow, welcome to Outliers! Please enjoy this selection of albums that we loved that did not receive the consensus votes to be included as one of our collective albums of the year. If you have yet to do so, include your own year-end lists in the comments.
Let the parade of the beautiful rejects commence!
Idle Hands – Mana
Goth rock has not historically been a genre that I’ve spent a lot of time with. I’ve nothing against it, just has never struck a chord within my proverbial wheelhouse. Idle Hands’ debut full-length record Mana launched earlier this year in the wake of the dissolution of Spellcaster, one of my favorite modern traditional heavy metal bands. So I approached it with intrigue knowing that the band’s pedigree was unimpeachable, even if the music itself helmed in a direction I was less familiar with. There isn’t a single musical decision I made this year that I am more pleased with, because I’ve listened to Mana at least a dozen times all the way through and am nowhere close to being bored with it.
Let’s start with the music itself, which is a healthy balance of the more traditional heavy metal stylings of the band’s previous work with Spellcaster coupled with a hefty dose of gothic rock that adds a swagger to the music that is simply delicious. “Nightfall” is about as rousing an opener as a band could hope to write, and exemplifies this genre mixture impeccably. It’s propulsive, dark, deeply atmospheric and insanely catchy throughout. Gabriel Franco’s vocals are appropriately dramatic for the music at hand, and add a constant sense of theatricality to the proceedings. And I say this in the most positive light imaginable, as his performance is both superb and one of the absolute highlights of the record, and is only made all the more powerful by the band’s incredible talent as songwriters. Idle Hands know how to write a catchy chorus or two, and if you get through tracks like “Jackie”, “Cosmic Overdrive”, or “Give Me to the Night” without singing loudly along while pumping your fist you don’t have a soul. It’s accessible and reverent of genre tradition without ever feeling cheap, which is a difficult balance to strike that the band pull off without fail.
On top of the album’s musical and performative excellence, one of Mana’s most distinctly potent attributes is its lyrical content. The one-two punch of “Dragon, Why Do You Cry?” and “Double Negative” are bluntly traumatic listening experiences, that deal with topics like impending death, deep depression and suicidal ideation with a directness that is both jarring and refreshing. The first time I heard both of these tracks I had to repeat them to make sure I heard what they were saying correctly. These two tracks add a significant amount of emotional gravity to the proceedings which ground the soaring music in a level of sorrow that is both potent and honestly expressed.
In case it wasn’t already clear, I love everything about Mana, which landed in my top five for the year. If you have yet to give this record, I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s one of the most consistently enjoyable, emotionally resonant, and musically satisfying releases I’ve heard in some time.
Northlane – Alien
Northlane is not a band I’ve ever enjoyed listening to. I struggled to understand their success or the qualities which seemed to elevate them above the endless sea of melodic metalcore and/or djent bands popping up like moles we just can’t whack quickly enough. And then they dropped Alien. What the fuck happened? Is this the same band? Suddenly we had industrial soundscapes and a smorgasbord of electronics synergising with filthy riffs, massive pop vocal hooks, heart-wrenching screams and bounce like you wouldn’t believe. Everything fell into place, like they had found the final, torn pieces of a map that they didn’t know had been missing. This is a band that has found its path forward and oh how we should welcome it with open arms.
Alien is the Hybrid Theory of djent, providing a much-needed surge of polish and creativity that could help revitalise a flagging sub-genre. The production is of the highest quality, every note pristine in what is doubtless one of the finest sonic releases of the year. From sonics to songwriting, “Bloodline” and “4D” are irrepressible earworms with tremendous pop sensibilities, while “Details Matter” and “Talking Heads” dial up the heavy with industrial samples, mechanised drumming and thundering riffs reminiscent of Fear Factory in their prime. And we’re still only four songs in, yet to touch upon the danceable “Eclipse”, emotional “Rift” or sax-touched “Sleepless”. There isn’t a song on this record I couldn’t describe as a highlight as Northlane brings a level of consistency to the table that we’ve not seen before.
Vocally, Marcus Bridge absolutely slaughters Alien. At times he has an uncanny resemblance to the late Chester Bennington (seriously, listen to this and tell me I’m wrong) and I can scarcely imagine higher praise. Throw in deeply personal lyrics, hard-hitting riffs, a swathe of electronics and the aforementioned production job and the comparisons with Hybrid Theory become clear. However, make no mistake, this is not a record that relies upon nostalgia or the works of past giants for its quality. Alien well and truly stand up on its own, a crowning achievement for the band’s career to date and I for one cannot wait to see where they go next. Consider me converted, and please don’t hesitate in joining me in the congregation.
Green Lung – Woodland Rites
I’m absolutely stunned I’m writing about Green Lung in this post. I kinda thought we were all on board with this. C’mon, guys. Regardless, this is probably the highest record on my list that didn’t make the top 25 (or the top 50 even). I’ve written about it in 2 different Doomsday posts, but that wasn’t enough to truly praise the artistry present on this record. While it isn’t a completely new sound per se, it is an incredibly full and mature sound for a band that’s only been around for a few years. It’s even more impressive that it’s their first full-length record.
These guys absolutely nail ambience. Anybody who picks up an instrument can get good at it with enough practice and motivation. Some of those people are going to end up becoming proficient songwriters, few of which actually become truly talented at it. Not many people can understand presentation. It’s a pretty difficult part to grasp and isn’t really something you can teach. You get it or you don’t. Green Lung gets it and absolutely nails it. When you’re going to engage in these occult topics in your music, you need to have the atmosphere there or you’re just another person talking about the devil. The band gets that spooky vibe in a way that really tells you a story with every song.
Equally good is the modern reinterpretation of psychedelia and proto-metal kind of sounds. The band updates the sounds from both with big fuzzy guitars but also allowing the song to have depth with the bass and drums. The vocals are very reminiscent to those early proto-metal bands and don’t try to play the game of distorting vocals which wouldn’t work with this kind of sound. Woodland Rites feels like a well-oiled machine with all parts working in conjunction to achieve a common goal. That’s what made the record for me. That uniformity is so rare from bands in general. It’s impressive to hear it at all, even more from a band that can count its age on one hand. There’s a reason I’m gushing about it for the third time this year.
Snooze – Familiaris
I try not to be bummed out by my own personal choices not making it to the blog’s aggregate list. Call it a fierce love of democracy, an acquiescence before the will of the staff or simply the fact that many of my picks do end up making it on there but I’m usually very happy with our lists and this year is no exception. However, there tends to always be one album I’m sorry not to see on the list because I know there’s something on it for everyone and its absence is simply a matter of the sheer amount of excellent music that comes out each year. This year, this is Snooze’s Familiaris, an intricate, uplifting, emotional album about the reincarnation.
Yes, I said “reincarnation of a dog”. Familiaris is jam packed not only with tasty math-rock riffs, powerful vocals, and a general wildness but is also an ode to “probably the greatest creature ever”, a dog. As a dog-owner myself, I still haven’t been able to listen to this album without tearing up and not just because of the inevitable demise that’s part of its story. It just captures so well why we love our pets (not just dogs) and how much they mean to us. The fact that it does while also being an amazingly composed and executed album certainly helps.
The exuberance of Snooze’s music, certainly not a new theme in their music, works really well with the subject matter to deliver the complete package that this album really is. It’s one of 2019’s albums that I know will be accompanying me for years to come; it has that sweet balance of immediate, powerful connection and ever-unfolding complexity which gives you more and more the more you revisit it. Give this one a chance; I think you’ll love it.
Her Name Is Calla – Animal Choir
Who among us doesn’t love a great ending? Artists so rarely get to go out on top of their game, and even less often are they able to author their own finales, but after a decade and a half, the UK’s Her Name Is Calla did just that. Long before Animal Choir emerged at the end of May the band had made it known that this would be their last record and final live performances. They released the gorgeous 79-minute double album on dunk!records, then promptly played their swan song performance at dunk!festival just one night later, closing out the already-storied Forest Stage on the final night of the weekend. It was a rousing, emotional, moving affair that somehow also felt like a fun, impromptu gathering of friends. By the time they reached the end of their set the entire crowd was on their feet singing along, an indescribably poignant moment that I’ll not soon forget. They were cheered into an encore, something that bands don’t do in the festival setting. They are a band who always did things the right way, and this final denouement was no exception.
But just as importantly as the story surrounding their departure is the fact that Animal Choir is an absolutely spectacular record front to back. It is packed to the brim with expertly composed songs, varying wildly in tone across a diverse sonic canvas but always tethered to a strong artistic core that keeps everything cohesive and compelling. HNIC has established themselves as a highly-regarded unit over the years, but I don’t think there’s any question that Animal Choir is their best work to date.
From the doom-y lurch of opener “Swan” to the infectious hooks of “The Dead Rift,” the Hail To The Thief-esque alt-rock bounce of “Bleach” and “A Modern Vesper” to the high drama of “Frontier” and “Bloodline,” this is one of those albums that nails everything it tries out and proves to be an unstoppable force from first note to last. This is without even mentioning “Robert and Gerda,” which boasts the finest five minutes of music to come from 2019. Nothing brought tears to my eyes with more consistency, no song proved as stunningly and overwhelmingly emotional. If you can get through the second half of that song without being overcome with goosebumps I’d question whether you’re actually alive. This is one for the ages, not only my favorite record of the year, but one of the great albums of the decade, just in time for our transition out of the 2010’s.
The final lines of the penultimate “Bloodline” are just as perfectly fitting as everything else surrounding Animal Choir:
We wanted this loop and we’ll live it out now for as long as we can
I don’t want to be a stranger in a strange land anymore
There’s nothing else to say
There’s nothing else to do
This is the part where we change or we fade or we dig even deeper down I’ll see you in the next life.
Indeed we will. Enjoy finally being home HNIC.
Legendry – The Wizard and the Tower Keep
I am blessed and cursed with the confidence in my own opinion of someone who is roughly fifty times as accomplished as I am, and have never been someone who would feel affected by an album they love not being voted onto a list of the best albums of the year. Yes, I feel bad that Legendry’s ingenious, powerful, excellent addition to heavy metal in the form of The Wizard and the Tower Keep, but not because I feel invalidated. I feel bad because I write alongside so many fools.
In all seriousness, Pittsburgh trio Vidarr, Evil St. Clair, and Kicker have really knocked it out of the park with this album and I cannot shake the feeling that this album would have absolutely been in our top ten if more people around here had listened to my mad ravings. As I wrote in my review last month, “Although their skeleton is undeniably simple … it’s how Legendry employ a select pool of influences to add considerable musculature that elevate them beyond their brothers in arms.” At the core of Legendry’s sound lies the same DNA as the heavy metal masters of days of yore, that group of warriors led by the likes of Manilla Road and Manowar, but they pull in some excellent elements of progressive rock – especially where that genre mixes with folk and classical – and psychedelic rock to better contextualize their heavy metal. It lends a sense of dynamism that is only ever bolstered by clever songwriting.
Whether it’s their use of mellotron in “Sorcery’s Bane” or the ripping Hammond organ that characterizes the back half of “The Lost Road,” or just a straightforward barnburner like “Vindicator,” Legendry are consistently tapping into the true pulse of heavy metal and making an album that feels completely timeless. Nobody who isn’t already a fan of true heavy metal, specifically its reedier and scrawnier incarnations, probably isn’t going to find themselves swayed by Legendry, but this can easily go toe-to-toe with the classics and, in some cases, come out ahead. No matter what my friends and fellows think of this album, my blade will always be raised in support for Legendry.
Marina – Love + Fear
The first half of 2019 was a rough one for me. It’s also a time when I really struggled with listening to heavy music. Maybe it was just all the stress (and the major depression) that I was going through, but it seemed like – outside of Hath and some great, early thrash releases – there was real dearth of outstanding heavy music released during the earlier months of the year. I know the majority of Heavy Blog staff would disagree, but I really felt myself falling out of love with more extreme sounds early in the year, and music in general just wasn’t really inspiring me.
Then (thanks to the once-excellent It Bears Repeating podcast, which sadly seems to be going the way of The Squirrel Friends Cocktail Hour), I discovered Marina’s Love + Fear. It (and Drag race podcasts) were about all I listened to for six months or so – until the new Killswitch Engage album came along and re-ignited my passion for more abrasive audio.
As I wrote in my guest Editors’ Picks entry for it: “the album reminds me of a more mainstream take on Björk’s 90s aesthetic,” and you really see the Björk influence coming through in the video for “Karma” below (which is actually taken from the Love + Fear Acoustic EP she dropped later, but it’s what shows up in the album’s official youtube playlist and is barely distinguishable from the original, while being more visually stimulating and helps make my point about Björk, so…). I’ve since read a bunch of reviews of the record that bemoan its lack of lyrical complexity, with some even comparing some of its compositions to soap commercials, which is now something I can’t unhear.
It’s exactly what I needed at the time, however, and there remains something both entrancing and affirming about the album’s blatancy that continues to strike at my core. True to form, I do think the album as a whole works better when listening to Fear first (which I actually think is the weaker of its two parts). Other than that though, Love + Fear is an absolutely perfect modern pop record and , for me, will always be the defining album of 2019.
Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel
Since I started taking music criticism seriously, the process of choosing my album of the year has followed two paths. In some years, there’s such a clear cut favorite that the only real challenge is ordering the rest of my top picks. In years like this, I enjoyed so many different albums from across the musical spectrum that virtually every album in my top five (or perhaps even my top 10) could have reasonably deserved the top spot. In these situations, my decision-making ultimately comes down to how dynamic each of these records is. In other words, which album consistently excelled in different ways, perhaps transcending genres in the process and producing something truly unique that will stick with me beyond the year it’s released.
Under that criteria, it was clear that Lightning Bolt had earned my AOTY nod due to their continued obsession with raising the bar above their own absurd standards. To say Sonic Citadel is a different kind of Lightning Bolt record isn’t entirely true; they constantly evolve their already singular style, and each new release is eclectic in its own way as a result. But what sets Sonic Citadel apart is just how diverse the record is even compared to the duo’s typically varied and chaotic blend of noise rock, brutal prog, and math rock.
I sang Lightning Bolt plenty of praises in our October Editors’ Picks column, but the one point I’d like to emphasize here is just how much of a late career gem Sonic Citadel is. Considering the duo are 25 years into their career and releasing their seventh album, it’s pretty stunning that they’re still bringing this much energy and ingenuity to the table. And while Rate Your Music isn’t the be-all-end-all, I couldn’t agree more with the site’s community, as they currently have Sonic Citadel tied in band’s the discography hierarchy with their previous “magnum Opus,” Wonderful Rainbow. As difficult as it is to cede the throne from an established, beloved classic to a brand new release, I’m confident time will eventually reveal that Sonic Citadel is the finest statement of Lightning Bolt’s accomplished career.
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising
You’re just a small cog in a big machine. A speck on the map. The idea of being an indistinguishably small part of something colossal and all-encompassing is a major theme of Natalie Mering’s 4th studio outing under the moniker Weyes Blood—the grounding, but simultaneously star-seeking Titanic Rising.
Feeling like an ant building Rome is something we all feel every single day of our lives. Look around. The rapidly unfolding climate disaster is an unavoidable facet of most media outlets now, and of course we’re all doing our best as individuals to combat this, but it’s increasingly easy to slump under the monstrous magnitude of the situation. Buy all the beeswax food wraps you want, it’s not going to stop the entire nation of Bangladesh being swallowed up by the Indian Ocean, is it?
Now while I love nothing more than letting fatalistic black metal wash over me to help attend to these feelings, Mering’s exquisitely tender demeanour and sense of calm control is so fixatedly alluring, almost to the point of intoxication. Titanic Rising is akin to that ineffable maternal warmth you would feel as a child, the kind of love and security that just felt limitless and spectral. It’s apparent on the album art of the record, where Mering is suspended in a child’s bedroom almost completely submerged in water. The room appears lost in time, equipped with a teddy bear atop floral bedsheets, a Bernard Sumner poster and a dresser buckling under the weight of an especially bulky hi-fi system. That’s the idea, that we all have this timeless “space” that we can go to let envelope us with its impregnable aura.
For these reasons, the record has been a leading light for me in 2019. An admirable, dignified and warm response to the relentlessly dour times we find ourselves in. I point your attention in particular to the opening track “A Lot’s Gonna Change”, a bittersweet ode to the past and the future. Mering’s Karen Carpenter-esque twang has that pillow soft touch to lament a world without her loved ones, the ones who lived for her; but her voice also possesses a quiet strength or nobility that make the following lines ring out with enduring hope: ‘Cause you got what it takes/In your lifetime/Try to leave it all behind/In your lifetime’.
On top of everything that’s been said already, Titanic Rising is most of all just simply a joy to listen to and I couldn’t really think of an evening better spent than putting this record on and gazing out of a dew-soaked window into the clear night sky, watching what is, what was and what could have been.
Dead Bars – Regulars
Look, for anyone who has been paying attention to my punk ramblings over the course of the past year you already know I fucking love this band. You probably also know I think you should, too. I was kind of bummed that this didn’t make it into our top 50 but then again I hangout in my little corner of this blog writing about a sub-genre that not all of us are into so I understand.
The truth is that Regulars straddles the line between the Replacements and FYP but even that doesn’t do it justice. It was always going to take a hell of a punk album to displace PUP’s Morbid Stuff at the top of my list and these four Seattle dudes did exactly that. The artistry present on La Dispute’s Panorama was another contender for this space but I couldn’t resist the siren call of the album I haven’t stopped listening to since I first heard “Pink Drink” months ago. There were a ton of very solid, good-to-great-to-phenomenal entries in the punk realm this year and yet here we are with this collective group of goofballs with their brawny version of nerdy, barroom punk rock laying waste to the field. Or at least sitting atop the pile with a drunken grin and a shrug.
Factor in the band’s killer live show where John Maiello is equal parts vocalist and crowd participation conductor that makes every appearance feel like an arena in a shoebox with the hooks the band creates on tracks like “I’m A Regular”, “Freaks”, and “Tattoos” among others and you have one outstanding album that should enter your rotation regardless of how br00tal you normally want your musical selections to be. Part of the charm of this band is in the way they pull you in through some uniting factor for listeners in a way that kind of says we’re “all sick freaks”. And that’s a-ok in the Dead Bars universe.
– Bill Fetty
Alarmist – Sequesterer
The highest compliment I can pay to Dublin’s Alarmist and their second full-length album Sequesterer going into it the first time is that I truly had no idea what I was in store for. Their brand of heavily electronic-tinged jazz-math-prog-rock is one of those nebulous things that is difficult to process in person and nearly impossible to describe to outsiders. It’s a hyperactive melange of sounds that rattle together like protons colliding at high speeds, occasionally causing a flash of light. What perhaps separates them from bands operating in somewhat similar spaces like Jaga Jazzist and Monobody however is a much more whimsical and playful approach that keeps things light and also creates the space for them to explore genres and styles that really should not reasonably have any place here.
So mashed with the epic psychedelic space trip that is opener “District of Baddies” you get the positively bouncy “Boyfriend In the Sky” and “Kalite Quest,” songs that I can really only describe as the aural equivalent of playing a Super Monkey Ball or Mario Kart level set on a tropical island. With their sunny demeanor and playful cavalcade of steel drum-like synths and toy pianos they could easily drag itself into silly pastiche, but on the strength of infectious grooves and melodies that interweave and constantly fold into one another they transform into a deliriously fun and mind-bending sugar rush. And then there’s “Lactic Tang,” which starts with a laid-back, chopped and screwed foundation that could easily have popped up on a Flying Lotus track, but that quickly shifts into frenetic mathy riffs. Later on “Helical” and “Expert Hygiene” dive into deep synth and transform into a lightning laser show. “Bronntanasaurus” takes the award for greatest shapeshifter though as the mechanical beast swells, ebbs, and rises again through multiple iterations and variations on an enticing theme.
As is the case with pretty much every track on the album, as soon as you start to feel like you’ve got a beat on what the band are doing and the rules they’re abiding by they change up the game. At no point though does any of it sound forced or awkward. Every single piece is intricately and immaculately placed like a beautiful sonic patchwork quilt, interwoven and intermingled to perfection. Trying to disentangle and break down the songs into their individual components feels like an impossible task and fool’s errand. With Alarmist, it’s best to simply take everything in as a whole and try not to overthink the incredible musicianship and coordination necessary to keep the musical spinning top from wobbling off axis. Sequesterer is certainly not one of the easiest albums to process that you’ll come across in our various end-of-year write-ups, but for fans of music that is equal parts challenging and straight-up fun, I guarantee you won’t find much that tops it in either category.
Serpent Column – Mirror in Darkness
In the recent ‘album of the year’ edition HBIH podcast, hosts Noyan and Eden discussed their choices for a bunch of superfluous categories outside of the usual. In jest, I created two more to which this Serpent Column’s Mirror in Darkness is applicable: “best album that the more you listen to it the more you realize it’s actually your AOTY,” and “best album that sounds like how it’s cover artwork looks.” To address the first, Mirror in Darkness is a grower, which falls into that territory of albums where you discover more within it the more you listen. It’s incredibly dense and complex, even for black metal, but the strange polyrhythms, math and prog influenced riffs surprise me with each listen. The song structures are unpredictable with very little repetition of parts. Walls of disorienting noise break into these pummeling syncopated grooves of suffocating, overwhelming heaviness, before moving effortlessly into melodic post/math-rock influenced riffs.
For the second point, it’s one of those covers that really paints a picture of what you’re about to get yourself into. The terms “suffocating” and “miserable” might rightly come to mind. The monochrome artwork depicts hand drawn lifeless bodies beneath a harrowing dark sky being torn apart by angular slashing hands and stretched and pained demonic faces. A bleak and violent cover for bleak and violent music. While not an unusual style for extreme metal, like the comparable Fawn Limbs, the colourless depictions of distorted agony seems to be a growing trend for this emerging sub-genre.
Dissonant black metal is one of the most innovative and original sub-genres of extreme metal being written right now. While plenty of bands have entertained this style of discordant riffing with blackened screams and blastbeats, the significance of the mathcore influence here pushes this into a unique territory. I think in a way we’re seeing the watershed moment for this style of metal, as bands are continuing to push its boundaries and discover what works and (potentially to their benefit) does not.
– Trent Bos
Employed To Serve – Eternal Forward Motion
Sometimes, you want music to challenge and surprise you. To push the boundaries of what is possible. To carry you deep into uncharted waters. At other times, you want music to provide a lovely soothing hug. But there are still times where all you really want is an album that spin kicks you in the face, windmills the drink out of your hand and runs screaming into the night. For those moments, there is Eternal Forward Motion.
Employed To Serve‘s third album is a consolidation. If its predecessor, The Warmth of the Dying Sun, was a fearsome statement of intent, Eternal Forward Motion is the band really delivering on that promise. It is sleeker, more focused and -as a result – even more ferociously thrilling than what has come before. It is a forty minute mauling, in the best possible sense.
Eternal Forward Motion may not be reinventing the wheel, but it never even pretended to try. Instead, it is a relentless masterclass in devastating efficiency. Pressing play unleashes a torrent of warp-speed, circle pit friendly gallops, bone-grinding sludgy breakdowns and precious few moments of respite. Vocalist Justine and guitarist Sammy then practically scream themselves inside out over the top. For various reasons, above and beyond the infectious immediacy of these songs, this is the album I’ve listened to the most this year by a country mile.
A particular high point is “Harsh Truth”, and anthemic shoutalong that is a remarkably invigorating and empowering ode to closing out the world and looking after yourself. It would be fair to say it’s a message I’ve really needed to hear this year, and the fact it comes equipped with an utterly spine-splintering final coda is a glorious bonus. Elsewhere, tracks like “Beneath It All”, “Force Fed” and “Reality Filter” simply hurl tremendously satisfying, shit-kicking riffs at you. Those moments of respite – especially closing track “Bare Bones on a Blue Sky” hint at possible future for the band in Post-Metal, if ever they tire of raging hardcore. But on the evidence presented, that’s not happening any time soon.
Corridoré – Corridoré
I’ll admit, there was a point at the beginning of this year where I was getting super burnt out on all sorts of post-black metal. From 2018’s stacked year with Respire, Bosse-de-Nage, Panopticon, Deafheaven, Harakiri for the Sky, and the like, it felt like I had just had “enough” at the beginning of the year and hadn’t quite warmed up to much from 2019 until summer rolled around. That’s when Corridoré changed my tune. Like most of us, I love to show some support for the locals, but this thing simply dominated my 2019 listening and must’ve showed up on half of my What We’re Listening To entries. Throw in a few local shows to experience this gem in-the-flesh, and yeah, I’m all the fuck in on this sludgy post-black quartet and their self-titled full-length.
I think what makes this shoe fit so well is how, unlike many who dabble in the atmoblack, Corridoré aren’t burdened by a desire to doll things up with pristine, clean passages as some kind of reprieve from the heavy and crushing. Being that the concept of the record is inspired by the D.H. Lawrence poem ‘The Ship of Death’, the choice suits the thematic gravitas. Their sludgy, post-metal leanings ever-within an arm’s reach (these guys …might… listen to some Neurosis and Inter Arma), ramping up both heft and tension as stripped-down waves come and go as the tides. Moments like the initial breakaway in “For the Voyage of Oblivion Awaits You, Pt. 1” drift listeners off to a quiet, fragile void only to then knock ‘em clean off their asses with a startling eruption. Even after a hundred spins, it still gives me a jump; it’s basically the sonic equivalent to this. Similarly, it’s counterpart “For the Voyage of Oblivion Awaits You, Pt. 2” patiently builds off dense foundation of quaking bass with perfectly timed soaring layers of leads and eerie samples.
Now, though they don’t do the stereotypical post-metal drama, they aren’t without highs and lows. The blistering “Shifting Skies, On Bloodied Wings” opens with a perfectly punishing squall that recedes without sacrificing sonic potency. There’s real ebb and flow with an appropriately massive nautical sway both sequentially and on a granular level. Their sense of timing is near-perfect, with layers of guitars to maintain fluidity as they provide something to latch onto as you get pelted by blasts and drenched with torrents of overwhelming riffage – this shit really feels like the album art suggests. Closer “This Swallowing Sea” is a massive piece that brings everything full circle with ghostly, desolate spans and crushing, sharp riffs that may take you a couple passes to find your sea legs (brace your neck that riff at about the halfway point, kids).
For a debut long player, the production and mix hit the sweet spot in an impressive fashion. Their burlier than their black metal contemporaries, but nimbler than their post-metal approach would have you believe. Eric Andraska’s lofty shrieks are downright piercing, humanizing the brutal indifference found in Lawrence’s poem with a tempestuous, emotional anchor. His work on the big strings keeps things grounded rhythmically, and in tandem with drummer Drew Carlson’s hefty single kick (which has that extremely satisfying cannonball-from-the-high-dive “THWOK”). Carlson’s playstyle is really organic, with a lot of tasty counterpoints and pulsing thumps that mesh nicely across tempos – so heavy, so satisfying. Matt Allen’s guitar work is clairvoyant, consistently picking optimal points for leads and operating with a knack for refined melodies. Behind the board, Spenser Morris (Vukari) underscores these elements with a mix that emphasizes their dynamism and power. I feel like the term “cathartic” is overplayed, but the way the chest-thumping weight comes together with the draining and emotionally charged compositions, “cathartic” feels really right here. These dudes just get it.
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Looking back at 2018, we can see that Ontario’s Tomb Mold placed within the top 25 of our year-end countdown (number 22!) with their stellar Manor of Infinite Forms. Somehow, the group managed to follow up with the incredible Planetary Clairvoyance a year later. Personally, I feel that Planetary Clairvoyance is a better record, so why didn’t it crack our top 25 this year?! I’m still a little salty about it, and our list is Objectively The Best™.
The placement on our aggregate list at #31 made it such that it didn’t receive its own blurb in the article, which is an injustice that this outliers post aims to solve. Their placement is perhaps simply due to the quality of music released in 2019; Tomb Mold just didn’t have as much competition last year. It’s absolutely no fault on behalf of Tomb Mold. Planetary Clairvoyance takes the murky and dank OSDM sound and shoots it into space with continued exploration of progressive and psychedelic influences via the melodic choices in the guitar work and use of atmospheric interludes and acoustic guitars. Sci-fi tropes are knowingly paired with the death metal aesthetic and it just works.
I know it can seem like a dirty word, but this feels like a more “mature” record, a snapshot of a band broadening their reaches and expanding slowly outward, not unlike a mold (sorry, it was unavoidable). If they continue with this level of prolifery, we look forward to seeing them again this time next year when we look back on the best DM that the OUGH-ing ’20s will have to offer.