In this feature you are not really going to find any lists, rankings or enumeration of any sort. It's not because I'm lazy (I'm not) or because I've been pressed for time (I have been), it's because rating, sorting and ranking things is a trivial and arbitrary practise I'd rather not indulge in. Not even if you covered it in chocolate. Instead you'll find groupings, sections and big-ol' walls of text. Illiterate? Fuck off, then. If not, welcome to the party. Here's a c00kie and a high five. I welcome you to sit down, light one up, pour one down and lose yourself in a sea of predictability, cynicism and thinly-veiled sarcasm.
Cream O' The Crop
In an interview with Hungarian video-journalists Kettõnégy, Rod Walker and Arif Mirabdolbaghi of Protest the Hero were asked to describe their music. The words they used were: booze, bihatches, anal sex, circus, homoerotic, bestiality and bromace. Later, in the same interview, Arif replies to a question concerning the meaning of life by saying, “Be a paradox. You don't need to necessarily make sense. You can be serious and a joke at the same time. You can go left and right at the same time. You can go up and down at the same time. Don't be too concerned about making sense to people. Just be yourself because nobody really makes sense, heh”. Those words basically sum up Fortress better than I ever could. I guess.
Arghoslent's Hornets of the Pogrom is an album with lyrics so confusingly pedantic that everyone just assumes they're racist, and for the most they are. While they may view the world through a white bed-sheet and their views on history are outwardly revisionist, listening to Hornets of the Pogrom can be a fun experience if you want it to be. Calling them “riff supremacists” is an easy way to hide just uncomfortable they make you and pretending “I Am the White Ghost” is about Halloween makes it fun for the whole family. Aww, I love Halloween!
Speaking of revisionists, nobody tell Dead Congregation that we're closing in on 2009. Graves of the Archangels, their first release, is about ten years late to the party but at least it arrives in style. It's heavy as rocks (bags of them!) and it sounds old-school without making it seem intentional. Graves of the Archangels is not only one of the best metal releases of the year, but quite possibly one of the best in recent memory. Hail Satan.
If anyone needed another reason to hate Europeans, the tragic break-up of local hardmetalcore legends Cursed is one of the better ones. Of course getting their shit stolen in Europe is just a fitting end to a career met with injuries, illnesses and bad luck all around. They live up to their name, but at least they went out strong. III: Architects of Troubled Sleep is perhaps the most volatile and pissed of release in a catalogue that specializes in volatile, pissed off releases. It's a scathing blend of thrash, sludge and hardcore and you can just feel the frustration emanating from every note. Christian McMaster's played guitar on the disc while suffering through carpal tunnel (which he had operated on shortly after) and Chris Colohan's vocal chords are, as always, seemingly on the verge of exploding.
While everyone was busy jerking themselves off because Chinese Democracy finally came out, I put my Dr. Pepper aside to relish in the joy that is C I V I L W A R. It took half as long to come out but its twice as good, and Dr. Pepper tastes like shit anyways. An alcohol-drenched blend of racuous punk and hooky pop (math makes it pop-punk), C I V I L W A R was definitely worth the wait. Of course nothing defines “wait” better than Traced in Air, and that's a fact that's best put in perspective by explaining that it was expected to follow up Focus before most of our readers were even born. Even if our site is full of youngins, 15 years is still a long time and what makes it more impressive is that Traced in Air comes close to matching Focus, and in time it just might. It may not be the audible recording of air, but Paul Masdival & co.'s latest foray into the world of breath metal does little to disappoint.
Burst's Lazarus Bird came out with a head of steam and knocked the haters over like bulls on parade. It has a perplexing charm about it where you like it more every time you hear it but somehow only want to listen to it when the mood is right. Oddly enough, that's a compliment. Like most progressive metal bands, it's quite possible these guys love the smell of their own farts. However unlike most, I don't get the impression that they bottle them up and save them for later. On the other hand there's Conor Oberst, an artist who probably thinks his farts are 'yucky' and I'm okay with that. He's the kind of guy who blames it on his dog but he also put out a self-titled album that served as my ticket aboard his hype-train. His surprisingly earnest and surprisingly unpuny blend of alt-country and wiener-folk not only impressed me, but inspired me to look two whole albums into his back catalogue. Maybe the OC isn't all bad after-all (nah, it totally is).
In spite of their undeniable blackness, only one of TV on the Radio and The Roots ended up releasing a truly dark-sounding album. Rising Down started off feeling overly frustrated and suffocatingly paranoid, and those two traits are definitely there. But with each listen it seems to ease itself down a peg and in spite of its dense atmosphere it's by no means a depressing hip-hop album. It is, however, really good. TV on the Radio's Dear Science is also pretty good, but for totally different reasons. Granted, it's not without it's emotional and political depth, but it succeeds off of it's genuinely fun blend of hip-hop, soul and post-punk. Similarly, the Mars Volta take a similar route with The Bedlam in Goliath, dropping a vat of acid into a pot full of punk, psychedelic rock and latin jazz. Surprisingly, it's their most coherent record in years. Unsurprisingly, it's still way too fucking long.
Other standouts: Scott Von Till – A Grave is a Grim Horse, Dismember – Dismember, Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It, Opeth – Watershed, Underoath - Lost in the Sound of Separation, Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, Erykah Badu - New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), The Dodos – Visiter, Flying Lotus - Los Angeles, Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes, The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Grave, United Nations – United Nations, Sombres Forêts – Royaume de Glace, pg.lost - It's Not Me, It's You!, James Blackshaw - Litany Of Echoes, The Arusha Accord - Nightmares of the Ocean
Surprises and Redemptions
2008 was a year of defied expectations, redemption and pleasant surprises. Arguably the biggest surprise of the year, Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak won me over with its smooth, down-trodden sound and its complete lack of skits and minimal self-promotion. Genghis Tron found a compromise between the bubbly fun of Cloak of Love and the monotonous “maturation” of Dead Mountain Mouth in Board Up the House, an enjoyable “electro-grind” album that comes close to nailing the best of both worlds. Diminishing Between Worlds is a new sound for a new Decrepit Birth: they switched two members out for one and tossed in some songwriting for a change, and most of all they proved that a band minus Tim Yeung always has a chance to succeed. Man, that guy sucks.
But wait! There's more! Arsis redeemed themselves after the gag-inducing autofellatio that was United in Regret. We Are the Nightmare is nothing to phone home about, but it'll at least get you dialling. Kings of Leon, a band I've never even remotely cared about, released “Sex on Fire”, arguably the best single of the year, and the album it comes from (Only By the Night) isn't half bad either. It's much the same for T.I., only change “best single” with “three best singles” because “Whatever You Like,” “Live Your Life,” and “Dead and Gone” are all top-notch. Electro-indie-hop weirdo's Subtle were trying way too hard with their last release and all it did was make me never want to hear them again. I risked it with ExitingARM and it paid off.
In Mourning's The Shrouded Divine shook my faith. It's never a good sign when a band takes 8 years to release their debut album and when its cover reminds you of an M. Night Shyamalan movie doubt is only amplified. Add in considerable hype from the perennially disappointing SputnikMetal community and its no wonder I took a few months to give it a listen. It was worth the wait, as is all the crow I've been eating ever since. As an aside, it's worth pointing out that comparing these guys to Opeth is doing them a major disservice. Not only is the comparison lazy, Opeth hasn't released anything this strong in close to a decade. Krallice came out of nowhere for me and it's an album that would have crept it's way into my top 10 (if I had one) if I'd have gotten to it sooner. Crystal clear sounding USBM with wildly inventive lead guitar and no wrist-slitting? I'm there.
Then there's nobody's favourite Death worshippers Hieronymus Bosch. They've always been one of those bands you hear once, like, then forget abuot and nothing really supports that better thant he fact that I didn't even know their new one, Equivoke, existed until about two weeks ago. But in that two week span I've already spun it more than I've played Artificial Emotions in the last two years. I don't care if the vocals leave a lot to be desired (they're still decent) since the rest of the music certainly doesn't. Translation: it's good. Virgin Black ---a band I'd always assumed sang about wilted roses and presumably sounded like a bad Otep knockoff---really surprised with the mostly straightforward doom metal on Requiem: Fortissimo. Of course that title isn't doing them any favours. Last and probably least we've got Prostitute Disfigurement. By shedding the gurgles and ramping up the Suffocation worship they've successfully evolved from a guilty pleasure into, ugh, a not so guilty pleaseure. Descendants of Depravity is brutal, not br00tal. There is a difference.
Best Fake 2008 Release
Bon Iver's For Emma, For Ever Ago is a pretty good album. But it's not good enough to excuse it from the laws of space and time. Newsflash, guys: it came out in 2007
The Bad And the Ugly
In spite of so many successes 2008 was not without its blunders, none more atrocious than Brain Drill's Apocalyptic Feasting. For those unaware, Brain Drill are a bunch of fat losers who made a “name” for themselves on YouTube playing their toy drumkits and nine-hundred string basses really, really fast. Then they stepped out of their parents' basements for a couple hours to “write” the turd known as Apocalyptic Feasting. Their first (and hopefully last) album, Apocalyptic Feasting is funny-bad for the first few minutes but it doesn't take long for the tears of laughter to turn into tears of agony.
As awful as Apocalyptic Feasting was, Assassins: Black Meddle Part 1 wasn't much better. It was a confusing attempt to stray away from black metal all the while attempting to stay as true to it as possible. Most importantly, it fucking sucked. Common's Universal Mind Control is what happens when a rapper turned mediocre actor thinks he can play pretend in the music world. Whoever told Common to put out a club album was probably either joking or Madonna, and neither excuses it from being so mind-numbingly terrible. Speaking of joke, The Human Abstract flushed whatever potential they had down the toilet with Midheaven, possibly the comedy release of the year. At the very least it's funnier than anything Dane Cook has ever done and somehow more confusing.
The following albums are either uninteresting and bland or just plain unworthy of elaboration, but regardless, they're stinkers: Veil of Maya - The Common Man's Collapse, Ihsahn - angL, Becoming the Archetype - Dichotomy, Unearth - The March, All That Remains - Overcome, All Shall Perish - Awaken the Dreamers, Into Eternity - The Incurable Tragedy
In the end, 2008 was a confusing year. We saw Toby Driver's name dropped with such regularity that it may as well be adopted as a sputnadjective. He's become a barometer to which all things “challenging” are measured against, which is perplexing given the fact that Driver's lone 2008 release, Kayo Dot's Blue Lambency Downward, really wasn't that great (or challenging). But as we all know SputnikMusic is a steam-propelled hype-train and buzz sells. At this point, I feel partially responsible for the Fortress backlash. It's come firing at Dragonforce-like speeds in the last 11 months and my enjoyment of the album has resulted in an unthinkably embarrassing clash between those who like it more than they should and those who hate it in-spite of the fact they've never actually heard it. Even more confusing is the idea that I'm some sort of guardian of truth; speak not ill of their name for if so I shall smite thee! Truth is, and this goes for any album that strikes a positive chord with me, I'll be there to debate any point that's either illogical or stupid. And, really, that goes for most things. The juvenile part of me would say I'm a master-debater, the asshole would say I'm just argumentative. Regardless, the point is it's never personal and if I've initiated an argument or debate or conversation on an album, it has everything to do with what's being said and not whose saying it. So while we're here, let's get it straight: any discussion or argument I am a part of has nothing to do with you---dont flatter yourself.
I've already gotten my first taste of 2009 with Ephel Duath's Through My Dog's Eyes and it pains me to say that it's really, really bad. It's bad even considering the concept (which you can probably figure out based on the title). It's so bad the first thing that came to mind upon playing it was Korn. It's so bad I've played it four times and still haven't made it though to the end. But I don't think it's much of an indicator for how next year is going to go.
I'm hoping we'll hear from some 2008 releases that were suspiciously missing in action. Starkweather, Nokturnal Mortum, I'm looking at you.
Mike Patton's Mondo Cane should be on its way in a few months and it's great to hear him actually sing again. As much as I love his voice, I'm not exactly a fan of puke noises. Of course anyone who's followed Patton but isn't aware of Mondo Cane is going to wonder what the catch is, and there definitely is one: it's a collection of symphonic 60s Italian pop covers. But Patton fans can take solace in the fact that based on bootlegs that have been flooding the internet these past few months, Mondo Cane promises to be primarily a frothy and bubbly release that's more aesthetically in line with California than it is Maldoror.
In 2009, you can also expect albums from: Sigh, Lily Allen, Dalek, Bow Wow, Mos Def, Christina Aguilera, D'Angelo, Dr. Dre (yeah right), Jay-Z, Mastodon, Rancid, Wilco, Sólstafir, Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Candlemass, Kronos and presumably many many many many many more.
More Staff Features: Jared Dillon, Nick Greer, Ryan Flatley, Nick Butler, Andrew Hartwig, Trey Spencer, Daniel Incognito, Lewis Parry, Adam Downer, Mike Stagno, Channing Freeman, Alex Silveri