2019 has been an interesting year for me filled with challenges, difficulties and enjoyment. It’s been a year of continued healing after getting rejected from a relationship the previous spring, as well as having to deal with the passing of a beloved aunt and close friend respectively.
I turned 40 this year as well, which in all honesty didn’t make me feel any different. I’m still the music and movie geek and socially awkward Libertarian I’ve always been. Maybe turning 40 has made me reassess things and decide to make the most of my life. Thus I’ve spent 2019 travelling extensively to the likes of Desertfest in Camden, London, visiting Auschwitz in Poland, Sonic Blast in Moleda, Portugal, Heavy Psych Fest in Rome, Italy and rounding the year off with a weeklong jaunt to Austin, Texas for the Levitation Music Festival.
I also decided to start reviewing albums and live gigs after a good long period away from it and lo and behold an opportunity to review for The Sleeping Shaman reared its pretty little head and hey presto, here I am! The following is my top ten albums of the year in descending order
10. Sudan Archives ‘Athena’
I’ve been investing quite a bit of time this year into Stones Throw Records, the label started by mixmaster extraordinaire Peanut Butter Wolf. I have to confess, the worlds of R ‘N B, Hip Hop and Electronica are not those that feature too prominently in my life, but when I saw pictures of the striking Sudan Archives, aka Brittney Denise Parks, I was glad that it she wasn’t just a pretty face. What you have here is an amalgamation of Sudanese fiddle music, R ‘N B and Electronica and it’s brilliant. I’d usually run a mile from R ‘N B but here its used very subtly and there are no corny lyrics about trying to get with someone. Instead it adds tenderness and warmth to the diverse and stripped-down music on offer.
9. Jean-Claude Vannier & Mike Patton ‘Corpse Flower’
What do you get when you cross Serge Gainsbourg’s arranger with he of Mr Bungle, Fantomas and Faith No More (to name but a few)? Corpse Flower that’s what. Mike Patton has long showed his love for other genres, he is at home with Burt Bacharach as he is with Slayer. Patton’s unique and diverse vocal styles have long since been his strength and when combined with Vannier’s skill as an arranger and composer, makes for spectacular results. I’m not even going to attempt to try and describe the sound of this, I don’t want to spoil the results. Basically, looks intriguing, sounds intriguing, is intriguing.
8. Ecstatic Vision ‘For The Masses’
New album from Ecstatic Vision, worshippers of all things Stooges and Hawkwind and with artwork that pays tribute to The Groundhogs. For an album that revels in all things Psychedelic it is surprisingly succinct, this is not Ummagumma. Another stunning effort by what is fast becoming my favourite band of the modern day and another quality addition to the Heavy Psych Sounds Records staple. I’m just gutted I missed out on their mini tour of the UK.
7. Swans ‘Leaving Meaning’
Leaving Meaning continues the Post-Rock feel of 2016’s The Glowing Man as well as their other 2010 releases and is the first record to feature a recalibrated line-up. It features contributions from a band called The Necks, who I was unfamiliar with until now but it’s still firmly Michael Gira at the helm, as well as his vision. It’s incredible to think that for a band who have been going for 35 years, that their sound has evolved so markedly while remaining reassuringly Swans. This record sees elements of Gothic Country and Folk and it’s clear that Gira has left the days of ‘Nobody burns their bodies like a cop in jail, Nobody burns their skin like a cop with a match’ well and truly behind and that’s just fine by me.
6. Deafkids ‘Metaprogramação’
Relatively new band for me and impossible to categorize, Brazilians Deafkids come highly recommended by Steve Von Till, he of Neurosis. When a man like Von Till recommends an artist then I often sit up and take notice. They started their career as a relatively straight-ahead Hardcore band, Metaprogramação sees them moving forward with a newly found love of Industrial music and Killing Joke, the tribal drumming recalling Fire Dances from that band. These guys are blowing up everywhere, even featuring in The Guardian, but don’t let that put you off, go check out this record and immerse yourself in its sheer sonic beauty.
5. Blackwater Holylight ‘Veils Of Winter’
Blackwater Holylight‘s Veils of Winter (review) is the cracking follow-up to last year’s S/T debut. The ethereal voices on here are sublimely beautiful, as if the sirens from Homer’s Odyssey where reincarnated and had formed a band. In a genre populated by bands whose riffs are endlessly crushing in Sleep style worship (not that this is a bad thing), it is a pleasure to have some melodic Psych Rock which also takes cues from the likes of Dream Pop Legends The Cocteau Twins and early My Bloody Valentine.
4. Cloak ‘The Burning Dawn’
The Burning Dawn is Cloak’s follow-up to 2017’s debut To Venomous Depths and surpasses that album in terms of quality as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of the more melodic side to Black Metal then this album will rock your world and don’t worry, when I say melodic, I’m not talking Dimmu Borgir/Cradle of Filth style melodrama with cheesy synths and Edgar Allen Poe style lyrical fantasy. I’m talking more in the Dissection vein and in particular their album Storm of the Light’s Bane.
3. The Wraith ‘Gloom Ballet’
LA Death-Rock quartet who take their cues from the likes of Killing Joke and TSOL, but who never feel like they’re a mere tribute to those bands. Despite the relatively dark influences The Wraith sound surprisingly upbeat and anthemic. The tracks on Gloom Ballet (review) breeze along at quite a steady pace and never get bogged down in Gothic melodrama or cliché. Despite my initial scepticism upon hearing that Scott Traynor, the original drummer of Blink 182, was in the band and that the home of self-pitying Emo dreck Kerrang Magazine has featured the band, nonetheless neither of these things could detract the excellent Death-Rock/Post-Punk on offer here.
2. Gaahls WYRD ‘GastiR – Ghosts Invited’
You may know Gaahl from his stony-faced appearance in Sam Dunn’s 2004 documentary Metal A Headbangers Journey as well as Black Metal legends Gorgoroth. He has now gone solo after a protracted court battle with that band and returned with this classic album. This is Black Metal experimenting but as with Cloak, not wimping out or turning cheesy. There is a Gothic feel, but this doesn’t sacrifice any of the brutality and there are some truly vicious cuts on here. If a mate tells you that Black Metal is just a bunch of shrieking and silly face paint then play them this album, it will prove decisively that it is so much more.
1. Saint Karloff ‘Interstellar Voodoo’
Having read the review for Interstellar Voodoo on this very site I was intrigued by the idea of an album being one track and 40 minutes long. Not a novel idea admittedly, Sleep beat them to the punch with Jerusalem, which is 52 minutes and 63 minutes in its original intended form Dopesmoker. One wonders if Saint Karloff became inspired by that album, structurally if not musically. Interstellar Voodoo is the follow-up to 2018’s debut All Heed the Black God and it’s one of those records that, to quote Lord Melchett in Blackadder II, twists and turns like a twisty turny thing. Like all albums close to my heart, the record takes me on a journey and because of that, never seems to drag or outstay its welcome. I feel that I can go back and hear something new and would say this is relatively experimental for a Doom record.
It’s always a tricky thing compiling a top ten list, there are always going to be albums that you dug, but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make it to your top ten.
First of these is Belgian trio’s Brutus whose album Nest was on rotation for a fair while. If you like the sound of Bjork fronting a Post-Hardcore band then look no further. Powerful and anthemic.
Next up would be Texas trio Crypt Trip whose latest effort Haze Country saw them taking a detour into Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers Southern Rock territory to brilliant effort. Plenty of loose grooves and jams to be had on this beauty.
Jesus The Snake: I had the pleasure of discovering them at Sonic Blast Festival in Moledo. Black Acid, Pink Rain marks their debut full length record and is a rather lovely collection of Pink Floydian Psych Rock. The album cover could have come from Floyd’s Saucerful of Secrets period.
Finally, there’s Russian Circles’ Blood Year who, while I enjoyed their previous efforts, they were not a band I could just stick on at a whim. This album however saw the tracks cut down more into more manageable bite sized chunks. Maybe long-term Russian Circles fans will find this a little disconcerting, I however thought it showed courage and the willingness not to get bogged down in the Post-Metal mire.
Scribed by: Reza Mills