Here’s an update on my first chunk of four from my list. Lycus’ first studio album Tempest is a slow atmospheric doom album. It is quite well done in my opinion. Each of the three songs takes an idea and thoroughly develops it throughout a track that lasts anywhere from 9 to 20 minutes. There is a lot of textural and dynamic contrast.
The atmosphere is really heavy, yet sometimes beautiful with some string sections. Overall, I like it and actually really love the last track. I find the last track truly engrossing, but the first two are somewhat forgettable to me. For this reason, I’m ruling it out of the running for best of the year. It was a good recommendation, and I’m going to keep my eye out for what they do next.
Next up is Russian Circles’ Memorial. I would imagine this band cites Sigur Ros as an influence. They basically construct beautiful soundscapes. This album was nice the first few times through. There is a lot of acoustic guitar work, but also some really heavy climactic sections which put the album firmly in metal territory…or at least post-rock.
There are some really good moments to be sure, but I just can’t get into most of it. I like some quiet soundscapes, so it isn’t that I just find that type of thing boring or something. In fact, I find the louder parts to be the boring parts. I feel like I’m supposed to be really feeling something at those moments, but I just don’t. To me the best song on the album is 1777, which is almost pop-rock. Since I just couldn’t get into most of this I’m ruling it out as well.
Next up, Black Crown Initiate’s Song of the Crippled Bull. This hits all the right spots in all the right ways. This band knows how to write a good melody, present it to you, and then incorporate it into some hardcore death metal.
They also know how to use contrast. One of my favorite musical effects is when there are two very different things going on at the same time but they have been thought about carefully enough so they actually mesh to produce a coherent whole. BCI really know how to use a fast, angular accompaniment with some long, slow, smooth stuff happening at the same time.
Wow, about their technique too. There is a lot of repetition on this EP which I normally wouldn’t like. For example, the last track has a bass pattern that repeats for most of the song. What is so interesting is that it turns from the main groove into a hemiola at some point (meaning it isn’t in the same time signature as the rest of the band).
I’m not sure how this was recorded. If that part was just made to a click track without the rest of the band, then it isn’t so impressive. But it would be sick to see them pull this off live, because it takes some seriously good musicians to be able to play that and not fall apart. I’m curious to see how this sounds in a few years. It strikes me as thoroughly current and so will probably sound dated in the near future. I’ll keep it in the running, but I’m not sure it has an honest chance.
Last for this batch is Zealotry’s debut The Charnel Expanse. This one is definitely going in my list of candidates for best of the year. I’m not sure I can write a reasonable review of it at this point, because it is far more complicated rhythmically and harmonically than any of the other albums in this post.
It is actually so well executed that I didn’t really even notice the complicated nature of the music at first. The tempo and time changes happen so naturally that they blew by without second thought. I love the overall sound of this band. They have an old school sound. The guitars have a dirty and unfiltered tone. The drum kit is dry. There isn’t any of this overproduced “enhancement” of everything that seems to have taken over death metal.
This album blows my mind tonally. It is unabashedly chromatic. I wish I could say more at this point. There is constant counterpoint going on between some interior tremolo guitar and bass or between a lead solo and some other voice. It is fantastic stuff. I’ll probably come back to a more thorough review later after I’ve had a chance to absorb this some more.