Horns Up Ya Shitters! A Look Back At 2012 In Metal
, December 20th, 2012 09:49
It's a Columnus Metallicus special as Toby Cook not only reviews the best recent Metal albums, but picks his highlights from 350-odd days under the horns
And so we've made it to the end of another year; 2012 is almost behind us and so far the world hasn't ended. Well, y'know, unless it's already ended, and existence is nothing more than the decaying cosmic echo of a reality that played itself out eons ago in one swift blink of the universe's cold indifferent eye… So to celebrate, welcome to the final Columnus Metallicus of the year, still yelling slurred incoherencies as it tumbles ever faster down metal's holy mountain, regretting that it still hasn't bought Seven Churches on vinyl, but reflecting that 2012 has been one annus horribilis for heavy-fuckin'-metal.
End of year lists are reductive at best, so here, in no particular order, are some metal related things that made the year a little more bearable:
1) Dopesmoker being reissued, on vinyl specifically. Ok, so you have to get up twice to change the side/record, which is massively at odds with the state you lull into when listening to it, but Dopesmoker is one of the most important and unique records of the 20th century; it's time capsule stuff, a masterpiece of fearless and righteous dedication to art – a historic document that deserves to be forever saved for posterity.
2) The continued re-re-birth of crust. The unabated rise of Black Breath; half of the current Southern Lord roster (the likes of Nuclear Death Terror, The Secret, Martyrdöd and Acephalix); and constantly seeing more and more people with Discharge back patches wandering around Elephant and Castle in South London. Long may it continue.
3) Supersonic. Seriously, do I even have to explain this one? Did you not read the review on this very site!? UFOmammut, Drunk In Hell, Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, Hey Colossus, JK Flesh, the Black Sabbath walking tour… the list goes on.
4) Too many gratuitous drug references in this column.
5) High On Fire's De Vermis Mysteriis. "The metal equivalent of that scene in Beetlejuice where the family spasms around the room to 'Day-o (The Banana Boat Song)' by Harry Belafonte… If the likes of 'Fertile Green', 'Madness Of An Architect' and the brutally compelling 'Romulus And Remus' don't move you, then fuck off home with a copy of Billy Joel's Innocent Man because you're not as metal as you think you are."
6) That moment when you're interviewing Pentagram's Bobby Liebling and he admits to having killed someone, then goes right back on talking about his wife and The Rolling Stones.
7) Royal Thunder's CVI. "The scope and heavy blues of Zeppelin and the riffs of Sabbath or Saint Vitus, yet there's also a fiercely unique, ethereal majesty to their lengthier compositions." Metal album of the year perhaps, and definitely NOT retro.
8) Best band and album name of the year? Need you ask? No, because that ignominious accolade obviously goes to Bolivia's Bestial Holocaust and their LP Into The Goat Vulva.
9) Electric Wizard Live. I never thought I'd accuse Electric Wizard of being a well honed, professional unit, but their show this year at the Kentish Town Forum in London, complete with lysergic visuals and projections of 1970's Italian horror b-movies, was probably the most debilitatingly heavy spectacle I've ever witnessed whilst not on drugs. Or at least it would've been, had I not been on drugs.
10) Neurosis' Honor Found In Decay. Again, I shouldn't really have to explain this one either. "Their most diverse and cohesive album in over a decade… a work of art to truly behold."
11) Slayer day at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace, London. Best. Festival. Line-up. Ever. Seriously, whoever it was that scheduled A Storm Of Light, Yob, Melvins, Wolves In The Throne Room, Sleep and Slayer – performing Reign In Blood in full – on the same day deserves a fucking medal.
12) Taurus' Life. This all-female power duo quietly offered up one of the most unexpectedly brilliant and supremely uncomfortable releases of 2012. "Abrasive, thunderous riffs; free improv and rather abstract concepts – equal parts the Melvins, Sunn O))) and Whitehouse. Upsetting."
13) The what is/what isn't black metal debate; I'm over it. Totally fucking over it. I massively respect dyed-in-the-wool fans and their passion, and whilst I think we're all very uncomfortable with the existence of "transcendental black metal cunts" Liturgy, just think yourselves lucky that Gaahl isn't flogging butter and a hologram of Euronymous isn't being trotted out at Download.
14) Not enough gratuitous drug references in this column.
15) Meshuggah Live. Not content with releasing one of the best albums of their career in Koloss, an LP that made the entire 'djent metal scene' seem embarrassing (or like "some bunch of shitheads with tidy hair… whining about their lack of a girlfriend over someone playing one Meshuggah riff over and over until you've rectally prolapsed") the subsequent run of live dates showcased a band still so far ahead of the game it's frightening – yet supremely groovy.
16) Bloodstock. The performances this year by Behemoth and Anaal Nathrakh will go down in the in the history of the festival as two of the most punishing and perfectly executed appearances ever. And next year they've got SLAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYEEEEERRRRAAAGGGHHH!!! Totally un-fuck-with-able.
17) Talking to girls about OM and their approach to spirituality and the universe after having ingested amphetamines. Seriously, just don't do it. No, Really, don't.
18) Bong's Mana-Yood-Sushai. "There was a time where Bong almost didn't make sense unless you'd smoked so much weed that David Icke started to make sense and you were worried that your landlord was a shape-shifting lizard alien… Here Bong's tantric drone feels horizon-straddling and unfurls in eternally-resonating waves of slothful, relieving bliss." Arguably one of the best doom/drone records ever made.
19) Ihsahn's Erimita. "Stand out moments too innumerable to mention. The blast beat-ed fury of 'The Paranoid'; the haunting, organ lead 'The Departure' and every moment Jorgen Munkeby of Norway's Shining lends his unique saxophone strangulations to proceedings. It's not black metal, it's not prog or symphonic metal, it's proof that you can stay true to your heritage whilst always seeking progression; it's one of the best metal records of the year." Need I say more?
20) Finally finishing Moby Dick… Turns out the whale did it.
Deftones - Koi No Yokan
Right, back to the serious business of actually reviewing some albums in a Columnus Metallicus that is slightly truncated this month, because we've all got more important things to be getting on with, like getting drunk at Christmas parties and making wobbly and spectacularly ill-advised advances towards barmaids (Claire, if you're reading, sorry about that). And because lists are easier to write.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I'd never accuse the Deftones of doing something so deliberately and disgustingly contrived, but the fact remains that bassist Chi Cheng's accident and the horrific injuries he sustained in 2008 created a massive buzz around the band and their subsequent 2010 album Diamond Eyes that perhaps otherwise wouldn't have been there. Obviously, the fact that the album was killer and that their live shows have been as formidable as at any time in their career helped too. By comparison then, Koi No Yokan pretty much just fell, fully formed in our sonic laps, which you might think means that it's a bit shit, on a par with the I-don't-care-how-much-you've-re-evaluated-it-it's-not-misunderstood-it's-shit-apart-from-'Riviére' waste that was Saturday Night Wrist, but it isn't. In fact it's probably their best LP since Deftones.
Koi No Yokan might represent the least prominent stylistic change between consecutive albums and you may well bemoan the fact that almost every track descends at some point into grand, crescendo-like choruses, but if you think that you obviously haven't noticed the fact that it's also arguably their most diverse and unique collection of songs since White Pony; they somehow capture that same acerbic yet chilled groove of Adrenaline with a melancholic, Cure and Cocteau Twins loving airiness and insidiously heavy riffs. Buy it, listen to 'Gauze' on repeat and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Dragged Into Sunlight - Widowmaker
In all of this year's columns I doubt we've ever moved so swiftly between two such different and disparate bands, but there you go, variety and Slayer are what make life just about bearable, right?
It's rare almost to the point of myth that you get a band and a piece of music like Dragged Into Sunlight and Widowmaker; something that you truly feel you've been waiting almost your entire life to hear, something that is so genuinely mysterious and righteous yet utterly, purposefully, repellent and totally lacking in pretension. They wear balaclavas at all times, don't give their names, live hundreds of miles apart only coming together to record, and probably fucking hate you. Yet here they have crafted such a consuming and permeating piece of work that veers from Earth like alt. country meanders and bone dry and brittle, almost haunting, Nick Cave/Warren Ellis-ish atmospherics, to crushing, Neurosis-grazing levels of relentless yet textured and flowing punishment to collapsing walls of static-drenched noise. And there's a distinct black metal edge here too, in the anguished vocals. Real, threatening black metal, like it used to be. It sounds genuinely dangerous... it probably is genuinely dangerous, and you just don't get enough of that in metal anymore.
Amenra - Mass V
Because it's only going to get much, much worse before it gets better, moving from Dragged Into Sunlight to the bleak, cavernous darkness of Amenra seems appropriate. As does the Belgian's decision to feature a gaping, soullessly black, cavernous void on the cover of this, their Billy Anderson-produced Neurot debut. It's always been easy to invite comparisons between Amenra and their new label bosses Neurosis, beings as they both have their roots in hardcore and continue to spiral ever further into the oppressive ether from its central conventions. The difference with Amenra though has always been the unsettling sense of abject and hopeless desperation that contorts itself around their variously thunderous and brooding dirges – here, on Mass V to say they've surpassed themselves is an understatement. Thanks in no small part to the anguished squalls of Colin Van Eekhout's vocals there is a truly uncomfortable and palpable sense of fear and distress, like being forced into the ominous blackness that adorns the album's cover.
Aluk Todolo - Occult Rock
(The Ajna Offensive)
An hour and a half of technically adept instrumental near-black metal with the metonymically beating heart of krautrock; Occult Rock has the potential to upset a lot of people – not in the way that Liturgy put people's corpse paint so continually and hilariously out of joint ("Wah! They're just soulless hipsters, they're not black metal at all, they're just play acting at it. Waaaah!!" like it's a fucking secret) but they too do seem primarily concerned with the transcendental nature of the black metal beast. The difference is that not only have this French trio served significant time in traditional black metal circles (playing in the likes of Diamatregon and Vediog Svaor) and spent years honing their craft, Occult Rock still carries that intangible undercurrent of nihilism and despair; 'I' might be ten minutes of blast-beat black metal channelled through Hawkwind's third eye, yet 'VII' sounds like early Can haunting a deserted, plague struck village, and it totally fucking works.
The Secret - Agnus Dei
If I haven't yet done enough with this month's selection to slap the abominably saccharine taste of the festive season out of your mouth, then the impenetrably dense and crusty Gehenna of dirge that is Agnus Dei ought to be able to force it's swollen and blistered arm down your neck and scrape the last remaining vestiges of Christmas cheer out of your gut with a rusty hook. The Italian quartet have undergone a few line-up changes since their last Southern Lord LP, the similarly dismembering onslaught that was Solve Et Coagula, and as a consequence the invasion of more and more grind elements has further swelled the ranks of their assault, to the point where if you can make it past 'Violent Infection' or 'Daily Lies' without vomiting from the sonic boot in your gut then you'll probably suffer some serious internal injuries. That Kurt Ballot is in the production chair probably isn't a surprise, is it?
Horseback & Locrian - New Dominions
Sometimes I wonder if being into music in such a way that you will deliberately seek out things that are acutely un-pleasurable to hear, and then look for reasons to like them, isn't actually a slightly worrying sort of sonic masochism – have you got problems if Khanate's Things Viral is one of your Desert Island Discs? I don't know, probably. It possibly makes you a bit boring in the pub though. But then, then I hear stuff like this Horseback and Locrian collaboration (reissued now after an extremely limited vinyl run, with three extra tracks and a total remaster by James Plotkin), which is just so interesting, and oddly peaceful and purging, that the multiple layers and textures of drone and the grating nausea of tracks like 'In The Absence Of Light', seem justifiable reward for you sonic self abuse.
Bardo Pond Yntra
Latitudes have put out some fucking brilliant records this year by some outstanding artists, and Yntra is unsurprisingly no different. Although 'The Crawl' sees the group indulging their darker, more noise heavy and narcotic tendencies, whilst 'Side To Side' lurches along, melding cosmically slow stoner riffs with almost spiritual, droning chants, the record is really all about the 20 minutes of 'A Crossing'; 20 minutes that sees Bardo Pond at their ponderous, lysergic and enveloping best. The oceanic ebb and flow and intermittent squalls of guitar; the splashy, restless drum work; the haunting and ineffable wisp of Isobel Sollenberger's vocals; that flute! Fucking hell, I never realised how much I fucking love flutes! Volume is such a key part of the Bardo Pond experience that at times their recorded work just hasn't matched their live shows, but not here. 'A Crossing' gets under you, around you, and, somehow, through you, in a way that behaves both as a particle and a wave.
Indian Handcrafts Civil Disobedience For Losers
Y'know when you're sat there late at night watching The Wartime Farm or a very old episode of Columbo in the sign zone, does anyone else get the distinct impression that the person doing the signing is sometimes taking the piss as they're signing the dialogue? Noticed that one guy who seems to do a sarcastic face every time Columbo mentions his wife, yeah? Either I'm cracking up or the dude is just getting some fun out of his otherwise serious occupation. I get exactly the same feeling, in a good way, with Indian Handcrafts. A power-duo in the most hellacious and heavy sense of the word; although overflowing with sun-grazed yet sludgy riffs that sit somewhere between Tweak Bird, Torche and Death From Above 1979 at their driving best, there's a lingering air of pure, unashamed fun and knowing ridiculousness at its core – they might be laughing at a joke we don't get, but who gives a shit when it at no moment compromises the quality of the songs.
And that's it until next year, so until then, in the words of the mighty Rob Halford, remember: "Only those who keep the faith shall escape the wrath of the metallian… Master of all metal!" Horns up, ya shitters!