If there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that 2013 was very much a year. That much is certainly not in dispute. One thing that has been divisive, it seems, is exactly how good a year it was for music of the doomier variety. Well, divisive for me anyway.
Many seem to have found a fair amount of prime Shamanic material to enjoy, as has been evinced by the previously seen ‘End Of Year Roundup’ lists of m’colleagues, but for me it was very much slim fuckin’ pickings.
2013, it seems, has been the year in which I largely lost interest in the kind of music that we chiefly cover here. I’ve reached a point at which I’ve just about heard it all before. I mean, sure, there’s been a few little gems in there – Gnaw‘s Horrible Chamber, the Age Of Taurus and Lumbar albums, Opium Lord‘s The Calendrical Cycle EP, Melvins‘ Tres Cabrones and the Mantar 7” all spring to mind in the slow and heavy stakes – but on the whole I’ve had to go elsewhere to get my musical jollies.
Now, I think you all know me well enough by now to surmise that Voivod‘s Target Earth is pretty much the top of my pops this year. I’d been waiting for this bad boy for what seems like forever and , unlike my other similarly long-awaited record this year – yes Gorguts, I’m looking at you, you smug, boring let-down – Target Earth does not disappoint. Dan ‘Chewy’ Mongrain does an absolutely sterling job of filling the big ‘ol boots of Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour and having Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Theriault back on bass again has made my fucking decade.
My other go-to record of 2013 was Queens Of The Stone Age‘s first album in six years, …Like Clockwork, a record that appears to have been as divisive as 2007’s Era Vulgaris was amongst those tedious tits who keep banging on about how good their 1998 self-titled debut was. I’m firmly on the side of Homme in the Kyuss fractiousness and tracks like ‘If I Had A Tail’, ‘I Appear Missing’ and ‘I Sat By The Ocean’ go a long way toward explaining why – he can crank out killer tunes like it really ain’t no big thing and isn’t at all reliant on reliving past glories, unlike his erstwhile ex-bandmates.
Speaking of past glories, how fucking good was that Carcass album?? Seriously, Surgical Steel had absolutely no right to be as monstrously good as it turned out to be. I mean, the odds were stacked firmly against it, what with the lack of Ken Owen, Bill Steer’s all but having turned his back on the world of ‘extreme metal’ and Jeff Walker’s entire career since Heartwork, but by Crom did they pull it off!! Best and most convincing ‘reunion’ album I’ve heard since Van Der Graaf Generator’s frankly incredible Present, back in 2005. But, good as it is – and it really, really is – no more reunions please, eh?
Another return, of sorts, that has had me consistently gripped since I first clapped ears on it was Through A Pre-Memory, the debut album by Äänipää, the duo of Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio and itinerant travellin’ axeslinger Stephen O’Malley, returning to the world of playing actual notes and chords again after what seems like an age. With the core duo joined by OLD/Khanate/Gnaw shrieker Alan Dubin, Through A Pre-Memory sounds like the record that I wish Khanate had made after Things Viral instead of tailing off into dullness, made even colder in tone and feel by Vainio’s icy synths and skeletal drum programming. The best thing that O’Malley has been involved with since Sunn’s mighty Monoliths And Dimensions in my opinion. More please.
Dark as Through A Pre-Memory is, however, it has nothing on the second slab of outer darkness from The Haxan Cloak, Excavation. The two stop-gap EP’s released since 2011’s self-titled debut left me very much nonplussed, so I was more than a little concerned that this album was going to be somewhat of a let-down. I shouldn’t have worried as Excavation is more than the equal of that first work of art, it possibly even eclipses it in terms of sheer haunted, suffocating, blackness. Time will tell.
The first of two albums this year that completely floored me and managed to take me somewhere that I’ve never been to before, Dysnomia by Dawn Of Midi is the utterly hypnotic product of just three acoustic instruments – drums, stand-up bass and piano – twisting sound into a series of ever tightening tautly repetitive ligatures that unfurl, unravel and mutate across what feels like infinity but is in reality around 45 minutes, leaving your heart in your mouth and your mind well and truly boggled. Minimalist hard-edged jazz as made by Autechre in a hall of mirrors.
The second recording to show me something genuinely new this year was the absolutely jaw-dropping Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I by Rashad Becker, and I really do not know how best to explain it to you. I’m still trying to fully digest this one myself. The sound of expanding and contracting latex rubber worms rubbing up against swarms of electric flies? Well, I guess that’s as good a description as any for the throbbing, squirming hot electronic mess that Becker puts forth here, but still woefully inadequate really.
Actually, the label that put out the Becker album, PAN has been responsible for more than a few of my most enjoyable and intriguing avant-electronic records this year, with Mohammad, NHK’Koyxeи and the very recent Jar Moff record Financial Glam all springing immediately to mind.
Other labels of note have been the ever-reliable Death Waltz, reissuer of quality soundtracks, whose absolutely fucking gorgeous double LP reissue of John Carpenter‘s soundtrack for The Fog was an absolute must-have for me – both from an aesthetic and a musical perspective – and Relapse, who really have been on top form this last year.
Lord Dying‘s barbaric and rifftastic Summon The Faithless, Wolvserpent‘s mournfully atmospheric Perigaea Antahkarana, Horseback‘s fantastic and sprawling A Plague Of Knowing, Obliteration‘s savage Black Death Horizon and Ulcerate‘s Vermis – the album that I bloody well wish Gorguts had made instead of Coloured bloody Sands – were all fucking deadly but the one that I keep on coming back to is the razor-sharp riff-after-riff-after-riff-assault of Revocation‘s self-titled album, a chrome plated, finely-honed perfect example of exactly how best to make an honest-to-goodness classic modern metal album. Full to the brim of tasty riffs, knuckle-busting leads, breakneck drumming and monster chops, it really does put me firmly in mind of a tighter, tauter take on Cave In‘s immortal Until Your Heart Stops, which is most assuredly no bad thing at all.
I’m suddenly very aware that I’ve gone on a bit now, but I do have a few more gems I want to share with you before I sign off, so bear with me whilst I rip through ’em.
I’d been looking forward to the Vhöl album ever since I first became aware of the project via drummer Aesop Dekker’s Facebook page and it was every bit as savage and delicious as I’d hoped it would be. Just pipping the excoriating Lumbar album as my favourite Mike Scheidt-related recording of the year, Vhöl just slays, thanks equally to Dekker’s relentless pounding, Sigrid Sheie’s blower bass, Mike’s ever-sterling versatile vocal performance and John Cobbett in general. I could listen to that man play all fucking day and not get bored.
Also very much on the radar as far as the metallic side of things goes were the progressive black metal of Oranssi Pazuzu‘s cosmically vast Valonielu and Castevet‘s near-flawless Obsian, and a metric fuck-ton of Death Metal. Too much, in fact, to single out really.
Finally, I also appreciated some hip-hop too, in the form of Earl Sweatshirt‘s downbeat and intimate Doris and Death Grips‘ much-better-than-their-last-one Government Plates. Cuz, y’know, that’s how I roll.
Oh, and honestly finally this time, I very much enjoyed a smashing compilation called Cosmic Machine – A Voyage Through French Comsic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980) which does exactly what it says on the tin and contains work from a bunch of French synthy folks whom I had previously never heard of, and Jean Michel Jarre.
That’s it now. Honest.
Apart from gigs. Whoops. Sorry. Roadburn was great – both for my first, and probably last, time as an artiste and as a general punter – and I also saw Matt Berry And The Maypoles, who were sublime, and Ovvl who slayed. There were probably more but nothing is leaping to mind right now.
Okay okay, I’m done.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson