When I came to look back over the course of the year I realised that I had actually racked up a lot of reviews. Having found the mainstream of heavy metal such a sad drag to write about, I failed to register a single blog entry this year, yet had to turn down so many offers of good reviews from the boss Shaman Lee that I was sure this round up was going to be a paragraph or two long. However as I started trawling back through what I had submitted for 2013 I found myself spoilt for choice as it has in fact been crammed with more stuff than there is space to write about and some truly challenging and ass kicking records and experiences along the way.
The year began with the Waterways / Sons Of Alpha Centauri / Hotel Wrecking City Traders spilt from BroFidelity records; not only was this a beautifully crafted record in terms of the music and the bands on it, who combined and complimented each other to create a chilled out, relaxing piece of dark surf rock, instrumental complexity and fuzzed out exploration but it was all wrapped up in a beautiful vinyl package that makes audiophile nerds like myself weep at its musical and visual beauty.
Hotly on its heels and in keeping with the theme Hotel Wrecking City Traders combined with other fellow label mates Spider Goat Canyon in celebration of their 8 date Japanese tour. Whilst the title of the split ‘Japan Tour Split‘ may not have challenged anyone’s thinking the dizzying heights the bands reach in terms of pushing themselves and their audience to explore complex moods through music is actually a thing to be marvelled at.
Moving on from laid-back sublime to the intensely focused, my year was almost book ended by Swedish noise crew Cult Of Luna who began the year with their first album in five years, the dark and brooding ‘Vertikal‘. Heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis, the album explores linear movements and themes with their own crushing style, creating their most atmospheric album to date, breath taking in the merciless precision and sense of foreboding injected into the walls of sound. Then in September came the ‘Vertikal II‘ EP, three original tracks and a remix that took the themes and motifs of the album proper and filtered them through a new prism. Calling it ‘the end of an era’ the twisting of their sound to another level leaves the long term fan wondering if this is the start of a new chapter in sound and approach for the band. Exciting times hopefully to come from one of the most accomplished ‘post metal’ bands around.
After all the seriousness of such a dark record it was also good just to kick back and have a beer whilst listening to Karma To Burn‘s ‘Live At Club Sidro‘, an album everyone should love as a soundtrack to a party in my opinion. No fuss, no indulgence, just three guys jamming and getting down to heavy blues music. Sometimes the simplest things are truly the best.
From the good time jams of Karma To Burn to the more serious introspection of the reissue of Steve Von Till‘s solo work ‘As The Crow Flies‘ and the savage audio blast of Lazarus Blackstar‘s doom on their split with Scotland’s Headless Kross. 2013 had many diverse avenues of underground music to explore, releases coming thick and fast with each month throwing up something that would appeal to the broadest and most narrow of tastes.
One of the biggest triumphs for me this year was the latest Author & Punisher album ‘Women & Children‘. As a long-time fan now I have got to see the band grow and change over the last three years. This time out Tristan Shone’s industrial doom howl was augmented by his desire to use more organic sounds on this record as well as the dub step element introduced on the previous album to create the most rounded A&P album yet. If this was not enough of a fix for those into machine meets man music, the man himself finally got to make his UK debut. Backed by Future Noise and this very website, Shone embarked on a 5 date UK tour supported by Gnod and various others which presented a fabulous chance to actually see the Drone/Dub Machines live in the err, flesh and it was a truly awesome experience. On the back of this tour, it was with no small amount of irony that Tristan was offered the chance to support Philip H Anselmo & The Illegals on his Technicians of Distortion tour in the States – the second leg is due to kick off in early 2014, a massive vindication for this pioneering visionary.
After this triumph my next assignment was to sum up the esoteric and deliberately obtuse Truckfighters self titled ‘Fuzzomentary‘ film by Joerg Steineck and Christian Maciejewski, although released in 2011, I didn’t review it until this year, hence the mention, and it’s a film which takes a look into the ordinary lives of this extra ordinary band. Essentially late to the party I got to try and put into words a DVD that is part scripted, part reality and a whole lot of surrealism featuring famous friends like Josh Homme and Fu Manchu. To say it was one of the hardest reviews I have done is an understatement.
After that Scott Kelly‘s next installment of ‘Songs Of Townes Van Zandt‘ was a refreshing, welcome change as members of bands more well known for their extreme take on music faithfully breathe life back in to the legacy of one of America’s most under rated blues, country and folk men. Here various heavyweights from the likes of Baroness, YOB , as well as singer/song writer Nate Hall reverently pay homage to a man whose songs are more well-known than he ever was. Under the watchful eye of Scott Kelly the ‘Songs of Townes Van Zandt’ collection is turning out to be a very interesting & worthy project.
Having been on a stellar run there is always something that brings you back down to earth and having (in my mind) favourably reviewed Kylesa‘s most recent album ‘Ultraviolet’, which garnered a mixed reception upon release, drew the ire of singer/guitarist Laura Pleasants over a misunderstanding about my remarks on the revolving door of members the band has endured. Never the less, despite the bad day at the office for someone I still stand by my original claims that Ultraviolet is one of the most challenging, diverse and interesting albums of their career and hope to catch them live in the New Year.
In addition to several big name releases this year there have also been note worth albums from some great bands like Sleestak whose ‘Book Of Hours’ release sees them taking stock before no doubt embarking on more Land of the Lost influenced Prog Doom; or Monolith Cult, the underground British supergroup featuring members of Khang, Lazarus Blackstar and Solstice, who released the stunning ‘Run From The Light’ album through Future Noise, proving that even after the departure of Cathedral, Doom music is alive and well in the UK.
Add in releases from Liverpool’s Black Magician in the form of the vinyl release only ‘Pursuviant’ EP which saw the band continue the great work they have done on their Shaman Recordings debut ‘Nature Is The Devil’s Church’ album from last year and German Doom favourites Obelsykkh who continued their new found love affair with the studio and delivered the crushing ‘Hymns To Pan’ this year has been seriously crammed full of high quality releases; and that is without mentioning there was a double CD greatest ‘hits’ live album in the form of ‘Spitting Fire Vol 1 & 2’ from the one and only High On Fire.
On a sad note EyeHateGod drummer Joey LaCaze passed away at the age of 42 due to respiratory failure following a successful UK tour. Having got to finally get to see them and turn in one of my personal favourite reviews for The Shaman as a result, I was deeply saddened to hear the news having stood mere feet away from him as he his level best to destroy his drum kit. If there is a silver lining it is that EHG are continuing and have an album of 15 tracks they will hopefully unleash next year and we will get to hear the man on what sounds like it will be some of their best material to date.
As the year begins to wind down there are just three more releases that I can’t go without mentioning. Firstly Justin K Broaderick was back again, this time in the form of Jesu who released the sprawling ‘Every Day I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came’, a more accessible slab of pop embellished themes that continue the Jesu catalogue with themes of light, subtle flourishes. With a full new Godflesh album under development you can’t help but wonder if this is the light relief before the genre of mechanical misanthropia is reclaimed by the master himself.
Then there was return of former extreme metal kings Carcass. Having reunited a few years back to milk the lucrative festival circuit, Steer and Walker ploughed on without the guitar skills of Arch Enemy man Michael Amott to ensure that the band didn’t just become a nostalgia act. The resulting album ‘Surgical Steel’ is the best album they have produced since ‘Heartwork’. I appreciate with only the lacklustre Swansong and a few best of collections this isn’t a huge leap but ‘…Steel’ is the perfect union of abattoir gore and melodic death metal riffing that takes them back to the heights they enjoyed in the golden age of their career. Michael who?
Finally and probably my favourite Sleeping Shaman related record of the year was Octobers release ‘Last City Zero’ by the collaboration known as Corrections House. Drawing together the talents of Mike IX Williams of EyeHateGod, Scott Kelly of Neurosis and associates Sandford Parker, Bruce Lamont and Seward Fairbury, ‘Last City Zero’ was and is unlike any album I have heard this year, or any other year for that matter. Part Industrial, part Doom, part spoken word beat poetry; Corrections House served up a truly unique vision of the world, both universal and introspective, modern and forward looking yet organic and clinging to the past. A truly dark vision of the world served up by some great individuals perfectly in tune with each other – look out for a performance at next year’s Roadburn that could be one of the performances of the festival.
With only a handful of reviews left to close out an incredibly busy year, I have to reflect that as more of the mainstream complains about the negative effect of downloading on record sales and bands can score number one albums rehashing songs by more popular bands who have gone before them, on the surface it is easy to whine and cry that heavy music has gone to the dogs. However if you scratch the surface there are more bands putting forward records for review or clamouring for interviews than The Sleeping Shaman can cope with at times.
Not all the records I have reviewed this year have been world beaters, some I probably won’t listen to again, others I can’t get enough of listening to, but the comforting fact that out there, even without the glaring spotlight shining on them, are people making fantastic music and that is why I love doing this.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden