So here we are at the end of another year, the time of year in which an onslaught of ‘best of’ lists are flung around the interweb with great abandon, so, not being one to disappoint, presented here in all its glory is my own personal rundown to throw into the melting pot. This year in particular has been a ridiculously good year for new music, my ‘shortlist’ of releases that I had initially noted down was in excess of fifty titles. An anomaly for sure, as for the last couple of years in which I have been asked to pen my best of lists, I had been scrambling around to find out what releases I actually picked up in that particular year (god bless you Discogs), nothing sticking in the mind apart from the odd gem. No such issues this year, a veritable smorgasbord of audio delights has been served (along with simultaneous destruction of my wallet in the acquisition of the vinyl equivalents…special edition of course), ultimately making it quite a hard task to whittle it down to a more manageable fifteen records that encapsulated the best the year had to offer (an odd number I know, but ten was just not enough and twenty always seems a tad overkill). Also it must be noted that some of these releases may not be entirely within the musical scope of The Sleeping Shaman in particular, but all of which display some kind or relation to its general ethos, that of adventurous, experimental and just downright heavy music.
The first album that sprang to mind when asked to deliver this piece was the final part of Blut Aus Nord’s 777 trilogy entitled ‘Cosmosophy’ (Debemur Morti) – I don’t think I have anticipated a release so much as I did with this and boy did it deliver, closing the trilogy (the first parts being 2011’s ‘777 Sects’ and ‘The Desantification’) superbly with stark juxtaposition between black metal, drones and post-rock atmospherics, sounding like the bastard son of Godflesh, Ulver and Red Harvest all rolled into one…simply stunning stuff.
Next up are two releases from the same act, an unusual inclusion for sure, but each release tells its own story so well, it would be hard to include one without the other – Death Grips ‘The Money Store’ (Sony/Epic) and the latest self-released effort ‘No Love Deep Web’. Not being a particular huge fan of hip-hop, the fact that this act caught my attention in the first place (via Scott Hulls Grindcore Karaoke release of their ‘Ex-military’ mix-tape in 2011) is certainly a testament to the raw, aggressive and downright heavy material that is on display here. They certainly take their cues from hip-hop in their base form, but add equal amounts of punk, noise and heavy electronics to serve up some of the best (and unclassifiable) music I have heard in a long time. After the success of Ex-Military they quickly got signed to a major in the form of Sony, but would organize their own fall from grace with the release of ‘No Love Deep Web’. Using the entirety of their advance to record the album, they then proceeded to release NLDW for free online before the label even had chance to hear the masters themselves. Adorning the cover with a piece of art depicting an erect penis, made the album nigh on un-sellable for the major and thus they were unceremoniously dropped by Sony. Despite the media hoo-ha surrounding Death Grips, the albums speak for themselves and are highly recommended if you are looking for something a little different from the norm, probably best described as Atari Teenage Riot (back in their heyday in terms of their philosophy and approach) for a new generation, great stuff.
Back to the realms of metal again with Xibalba and the album ‘Hasta La Muerte’ on Southern Lord…from the opening bombastic drum beats to the final drawn out feedback tones, Xibalba completely nail the current trend in metallic hardcore, delivering crushing riff after crushing riff amongst the d-beat blasts with such conviction and aggression that it just simply blows your head clean off.
Talking about conviction and complete undiluted rage, Anaal Nathrakh’s ‘Vanitas’ (Candlelight) deserves a mention, brandishing their unique blend of Black Metal and Grindcore whilst adding elements of Speedcore to really ramp up the intensity levels, ‘Vanitas’, for myself anyway, represents their most complete work to date. Whilst offering nothing new in terms of their discography, the release is completely focused and unrelenting, very much like my next choice from fellow Brummies Napalm Death with ‘Utilitarian’ (Century Media).
Napalm are legends in their own right and the fact that they are still churning out completely relevant and fresh sounding releases such as ‘Utilitarian’ serves as testament to their solid reputation. The involvement of John Zorn on the track ‘Everyday Pox’ shows that they are still not afraid to experiment, with Zorn delivering an intense sax freak-out, harking back to the Painkiller days of old (the side project of original Napalm member Mick Harris along with Bill Laswell and of course John Zorn himself) which certainly put a smile on my face.
Next up is Raime ‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’ (Blackest Ever Black) showcasing the dark underbelly of the techno/drone scene, I was aware of Raime from some of their earlier 12” offerings on Blackest Ever Black, but nothing previous comes close to the bleak soundscapes that are portrayed within their debut release. This LP was described by an acquaintance of mine as being like ‘Pan-Sonic covering (Khanate’s) ‘Clean Hands go Foul’ which pretty much sealed the deal for me and I ordered the album without even listening to a single clip or teaser and to be honest, he was completely spot on.
More emotive electronic material follows in the form of X-TG – ‘Desertshore/The Final Report’ (Industrial Records) serving as a tribute to the late, great Pete ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, the remaining members of Throbbing Gristle (Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti minus one Genesis P-Orridge, hence the name X-TG and not TG) along with a plethora of special guests deliver a final send off for both Christopherson and Throbbing Gristle in either form. Presented as two separate albums in one package, ‘Desertshore‘ is a cover version of Nico’s classic 1970’s album, the concept originally dreamt up by Sleazy but made flesh here and the second is ‘The Final Report’. Both serve up a more subdued version of Throbbing Gristles early sound experiments with a strong emotional backdrop. Utilizing some of Sleazy’s own homemade equipment and acquired source material made prior to his untimely death in 2010, this certainly brings a tear to the eye and is an amazing piece of work to boot.
Delving further into the realms of unclassifiable, experimental electronic work we have Actress ‘R.I.P’ (Honest Jon’s). Actress aka Darren J. Cunningham describes this album as his attempt to make ‘cool, classical stuff for a modern generation’, which comes close to describing the abstract, micro-beats that make up ‘R.I.P’, intensely hypnotic and highly original, this needs to be sought out where possible if this kind of stuff floats your boat.
Heading back from the electronic to the organic we have the stunning split release on Head of Crom from Slabdragger and Meadows – once you have finished ogling the amazing cover art (by Scott Move), the music contained within isn’t half bad either. Slabdragger drop two epic tracks that take up the entirety of Side A, easily moving between filthy, crust ridden riffs with a bluesy edge to some (quite unexpected) bursts of fury, making the Slabdragger contribution completely mesmerizing. Meadows inject a bit more of a hardcore vibe to proceedings for the flip-side, whilst dropping heavy breakdowns complete with neck snapping riffage in equal amounts, rounding off the split very nicely indeed…very heavy shit.
Riot Season deliver another dose of stimulating Noise Rock in the form of family favourite’s Shit And Shine with ‘Jream Baby Jream’ –combining their penchant for pummeling your senses with repetitive riffs and tones with some excruciating excursions into noise territory, the act make no bones about making you feel as uncomfortable as possible (in the nicest possible sense) thus making them a staple ingredient in the discerning experimentalists diet. Surprisingly though, this is probably one of the most accessible releases in $n$’s repertoire with forays into Krautrock territory and the like, whilst still retaining their ability to amuse and abuse at the same time, essential listening.
Death metal legends Incantation make a stunning comeback with the album ‘Vanquish in Vengeance’ (Listenable Records) moving between full on blast beats and intricate guitar work to some really fucking heavy doom-esque riffs to give it that old school creeping death vibe. They certainly mine the doom/drone side of things heavily on this record, with the final behemoth of a track ‘Legion of Dis’ (which clocks in at nearly 12 minutes in length) being the prime example, but instead of bandwagon jumping, it takes their own particular brand of death metal to a different plane entirely.
Winterfylleth are my next choice, with their third full length ‘The Threnody of Triumph’ (Candlelight), the purveyors of ‘English Heritage Black Metal’ take things to the next level with this album, incorporating folk and strong pagan tradition within the black metal framework with graceful ease, shining through with a sense of emotion that is rarely glimpsed in the genre any more. As such it is easy to see why they are now seen as the flag-bearers for the burgeoning British Black Metal scene alongside fellow brothers in arms Wodensthrone.
Being a sucker for anything Judge Dredd/2000 AD related, the next release will come as no surprise, namely the superb Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega City One (Invada) composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Waiting, as I am sure many were, for the new Dredd movie release earlier this year, this album was picked up purely based on name association alone. However, far from being just another bit of throwaway movie merchandise, the album turned out to be a thing of pure beauty. Paying homage to similar scores by John Carpenter with the heavy use of pulsating drones and pure analogue synth lines, the cold, clinical feel of Mega City One is captured brilliantly and this was one record that was revisited over and over again. Certainly one of the surprise releases of the year which also re-ignited a passion for collecting old horror soundtracks such as those re-issued by the excellent Death Waltz Recording Company.
The last choice comes in the form of the mysterious Scandinavian act Goat and their debut LP ‘World Music’ (Rocket). This release seems to have cropped up on lots of end of year lists, right across the musical board, which is no surprise really as Goat pull off one of the most diverse sounding releases I have heard in a long time. Incorporating heavy psych freak-outs, African instrumentation and post-punk funk combined with a healthy dose of mystery behind the origins of the act and members involved, combine to create one of the most interesting, spell-binding and downright FUN albums of the year. If ‘World Music’ does not leave you with the biggest shit-eating grin slapped right across your mush, then there is something severely lacking in your musical DNA.
Well there you go, the final thing to say is a big thank you to Lee Edwards of Sleeping Shaman for letting me be involved with such a great forum for underground music as a whole, long may it continue! Also thanks to the folk that have read my words and those that have offered help in regards to my own projects throughout the year. Here’s to 2013….cheers!