Of Art And Metal: The Best Ambient, Doom, Drone & Sundry Esoterica Of 2008

Quietus man John Doran may have just cut his hair and stopped drinking but nothing can remove the oily black stains from his soul. Luckily this year has been one annus miraculous for a miserable anus.

Note: This list is as disordered as my life and probably has just as many essential things missing from it.

Torche Meanderthal Hydra Head

"But, like, wah! Mu-u-u-u-um, some of this stuff isn’t even art metal! Wah!" So, Torche moved out of the arena of the full-time droners into that of art house pop punk. They’ve become a bastard hybrid of Parts & Labor, Husker Du, Tusk and ISIS and as much as this album is ace, it is their increasingly stupendous live shows that have really marked them out as one of this year’s best metal acts. Sad to see the chap with the long hair leaving but they’re coming back to these shores again soon. Brace yourselves.

Parts & Labor Receivers Jagjaguwar

Talking of arty pop punk, Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor have rung the changes with new drummer Joseph Wong and new guitarist, the awesomely named Sarah Lipstate. More importantly to The Quietus they’ve switched up from a plus sign to an ampersand. All we want now is the Anglo Saxon spelling of the word "labour" and we’re laughing. So tuneful, life-affirming and life-improving that all group members should be boiled down and made into a emotionally nutritious paste in order to feed the terminally depressed, lonely and suicidal in order to bring light into their lives. The true heirs to Husker Du’s crown.

The Heads Dead In The Water Rooster

"There there dear. Why don’t you go and write in your little blog about how the nasty man doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Of course The Heads are actually a quasi-psychedelic stoner rock band and not metal at all." One of the best moments of the festival calendar was seeing this long standing cult concern for the first ever time at Capsule’s superb Supersonic festival where they were the best amongst a very good bunch. The album is a disgracefully scuzzy affair that makes you want to smoke a shit load of weed. Which is bad if, like me, cannabis makes you prone to violently schizoid paranoia.

A Storm Of Light And We Wept The Black Ocean Within Neurot

Cataclysmic, eschatologoical, millennial eco disaster as metaphor for the collapse of the ego. Sublime and overpowering post rock.

SunnO))) Domkirke Southern Lord

As the permanently nervous hipsters prepare to leave en-masse (It’s got something to do with the price of SLord vinyl on eBay – as long as it’s for the right reasons eh?) the irony is, that SunnO))) have just released one of their best albums to date. On vinyl they continue the unabashed fetishization of the physical product that simply negates any idea of illegal downloading. The core idea of the basic components of metal performance being restructured as religious orthodoxy is taken to its logical conclusion with a live performance in Bergen Cathedral. The fact you have Attila Csihar from Mayhem loaning his vocals is a sweet irony and hints at what a spectacularly liberal place Norway must be. The neo-Gregorian chanting of ‘Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself In The Clouds?’ is a direction I’d like to see them explore more fully.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fungus Willie Anderson

It must have taken balls of solid titanium to break up At The Drive-In when they did but when Omar ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric ‘Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair’ Bixler-Zavala peeled away there was an intense burst of creativity, some of it like this album, only seeing the light of day now. Recorded in a fertile sojourn in Amsterdam with the ill-fated Jeremy Ward, this is a work of jazz rock fusion that is close to genius and riffs on styles pinned down by King Crimson, Miles Davis, Jane’s Addiction and Fugazi.

Burial Hex Initiations Aurora Borealis

Do you know that bit when you’re having a bad trip on far too many magic mushrooms or a lot of snide LSD where it all just evaporates and stops? And you’re left there panting and slightly frazzled but in no actual physical danger at all thinking ‘Oh my God, I was expecting that to go on for a lot longer.’ And you haven’t gone to hell; and you’re not completely insane; and you aren’t in some kind of experiment being carried out by all your ‘friends’ and scientists behind all the one way mirrors. And you laugh out loud with relief. But it only lasts for a few seconds and then you pulse slowly back into the crawling horror and realise that you’ve still got hours/days to go? Well, this album’s a bit like that. It starts with lush atmospheric strings and suddenly devolves into white noise and agonized voices screaming: "Thy will be done!" Custom built for those who find Wolf Eyes a bit daft but are also not really into the whole ‘Am I shocking you yet?’ aspect of some power electronics. Awesome.

Scott Kelly The Wake Neurot

Actually – there’s no way on earth you can pretend this is either art or metal but our boy is in Neurosis so what are you going to do? This marks perhaps the most graceful of transitions from howls of feedback and angular grind to the sombre pleasures of the acoustic guitar and alt country. A very satisfying album that shows that Kelly is rapidly becoming alt metal’s Johnny Cash.

5ive Hesperus Tortuga

It was perhaps inevitable that post rock (and therefore post metal as well) would quickly become the most predictable genre of all time. The deteritorialising, anarchic effect of Slint, early Mogwai, Tortoise and Godspeed! has given way to a slew of bands who can only reach aspartamine levels of satisfaction due to their tragic reteritorialization of post rock into easy to follow, easy to understand rules, which have been affecting newer units such as Envy, Mono, Lento et al. Even bands that were once awesome are not immune to this terrible predictability. It would be a dark day indeed if we were ever having to say this about Mogwai, ISIS, Pelican etc but on recent form it seems more probable than not. Thank the lord for 5ive then, who can still, as a two piece with day jobs and family commitments, find the time and power to unseat you on a critical and emotional level.

Women Women Jagjaguwar

A genre defying affair that refreshingly seems to abide by the everything goes, DIY radicalism aesthetic of the post punk era rather than actually biting any particular band’s style. Weird reverb effects were created by Chad VanGaalen recording the band in a sewer and a ventilation duct. The band ranges in style from Liars and The Shins to This Heat and Animal Collective. In a good way.

Morkobot ‘Morto’ Supernatural Cat

Italians do indeed do it better. The concept alone here was good enough to hook you in. This is the third album in a series made by a metal trio (called Lin, Lan and Len). They claim it’s ‘Death Concept’ but it’s certainly not death metal. They deal more in the metallic clangor of Big Black and NOMEANSNO and Noxagt. From the label that brought you the awesome UFOmammut.

Harvey Milk Life . . . The Best Game In Town Hydra Head

HM were that rarest of thing: a proper, bona-fide cult band from the 90s who were genuinely welcome when they reared their collective ugly and syphilitic head again in the naughties. A glorious throwback to everything that was righteous about the 80s, Killdozer, Butthole Surfers and The Jesus Lizard, they managed to come back and still be fucking awesome. I can smell your cult!

ASVA What You Don’t Know Is Frontier Southern

Behind the goofily amiable exterior of ex-Goatsnake and Burning Witch player, Stuart Dahlquist must lie a razor sharp intuition, if this album is anything to go by. The former SunnO))) collaborator is on fine form here pushing ambient, drone and BM into ever weirder shapes.

Nadja Skin Turns To Glass The End

Aidan Baker and Tim Hecker Fantasma Parastasie Alien8

Nadja Bliss Torn Out Of Emptiness Cold Spring

A rerecording of a five year old album that blew me away when I first heard it. I felt like those Express Dairy milk bottles that turn orange and melt on the door step when the nuclear bomb goes off in Threads. Sorry, should I have put a spoiler alert in before that? Much love has been shown for Nadja elsewhere on this site in Joe Stannard’s Metalgaze article, in my review of this album and in our end of year lists and so on; so I’ll use the extra space to recommend another one of Aidan Baker’s projects, an album called Fantasma Parastasie released with Tim Hecker on Alien8. This is a more introspective affair but no less breath taking, being the sound track to an imagined Elizabethan daemon raising. Full review of Skin Turns To Glass here. Our artists of the year interview with Aidan and Leah should be up next week.

Black Elk Always A Six And Never A Nine Crucial Blast

You know when you wake up outdoors and you can smell burning flesh and there’s a dog licking your balls, and you think ‘Fucking Jagermeister’? Well, if that happened to these guys they’d show off about it and think it was funny. Fucking really, really good stuff this that (somehow) manages to combine Iron Maiden, Rites Of Spring, ISIS and Mastodon. Happy fucking Christmas to you all.

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