It’s high time I finished my 2018 favorites list (or at least the thorough reviews).
Every year, I try to get into a new style that pushes my appreciation of extreme music just a little bit further. In 2017, I took a deeper dive into grindcore with some classic Napalm Death and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. This past year, I attempted to grasp the appeal of the super-dissonant side of death metal. Portal are probably the best known band in this style right now and are still well beyond me, but I think I’m more invested at wrapping my head around Gorguts at this juncture, as their melodic sensibilities are more pronounced and I’ve been a Colin Marston fan ever since I first heard “You Will Be Reincarnated As An Imperial Attack Space Turtle”.
That said, after 2018, I think Anachronism might have been the band I was looking for this whole year. After hearing the first couple tracks of Orogeny, which I believe to be their second album, I was pretty sure Anachronism would be a great gateway into the thick, murky, dissonant ends of the death metal spectrum. Orogeny ended up exceeding my expectations on every front and was one of the strongest albums I heard this year. (Also before the cut I need to tell you that this album shares a name with the magic system in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, which you absolutely must read if you’re up for some heavy-hitting fiction.)
Alright, let’s say you’ve got an album by a band called Rivers of Nihil (spooky), and they’ve got a real spiky logo (at least it’s legible) and the album cover is a Dan Seagrave (he’s done all their album covers)–you, and most everybody else, will probably conclude that this is a metal album. But from the very first chord, if you’re even remotely familiar with the genre, you can further guess that Where Owls Know My Name isn’t going to be just another metal album (and if you’re not, you’ll come to the same realization around when the first saxophone solo kicks in). Even then, you still might not expect how beautifully written, how emotive, how powerful an experience it ends up being.
Since The Faceless started falling apart and Meshuggah had a brand-new genre label foisted upon them, Beyond Creation have been my go-to band for technical death metal. The Montréalais quartet don’t sound like every other tech death band, and honestly, given how samey tech death tends to be, that’s enough to get me interested. But Beyond Creation went beyond getting me interested and got me well and properly hooked.
Turns out I had a little more to say about each of these albums than I though. It also turns out that rapid-fire publishing nine posts over eight days isn’t a great idea, so I’m clumping most of my favorite albums of 2017 into this post on this final day of the year. Here are my takes on weirdo-pop icon Fever Ray, prog theatrics from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, a slab of supermassive riffs from Ground, a lightning-fast thrash assault from Lich King, and Igorrr, dear god, Igorrr, what have you wrought?
Distinguished readers, here is the 2017 album that took BloodLetterPress by storm, the one that we’ve had playing at most of our in-person meetings this year, the latest offering from the man we’ve come to view as the voice of a generation. Neil Cicierega, perhaps best known as the creator of Lemon Demon, Potter Puppet Pals, and countless other internet follies, has graced us with a third mashup album.
If you’ve ever been under a weighted blanket, or dozed off in the trunk of a car during a hot summer, you know the sensation I’m trying to invoke when I say that Ex People’s debut Bird is a comfy doom album. Comfy doom is the kind of music that Windhand plays, the kind that Cloudkicker invoked on Subsume, the feeling of getting overwhelmed by something heavy and soft that pins you down and gets you cozy. It doesn’t need to be scary or capital-e Evil; its power comes from its ability to flatten, to neutralize, to disarm. “You’ll be eating out my hand,” vocalist Laura Kirsop promises on the track “You Creep”. It’s a cool subversion of the macho posturing that some elements of metal fall back on, and given Ex People’s roots in punk and riot grrrl, it’s certainly intentional.
The London quartet bring the low end like nobody’s business on Bird; at its grooviest, this album’s kinetic energy is the kind of meaty lumbering you might expect from an entire slumber of megatherium. But the blunt instruments of the rhythm section don’t just twist and crush aimlessly though the earth; this is not just a collection of nice riffs that become stale after twenty minutes. Ex People craft a heady soundscape, nestling you in layers upon layers of textured guitar, beautiful loud-soft dynamics, and a perfectly matched vocal performance even as you’re driven forth by the low end. Guitarist Calem Gunn said it best in an interview with Metal Hammer: “There’s a unique, addictive feeling to be wrought from playing low and slow. Weight and the absence of weight.” Bird is a colossal creature borne aloft.