Well 2014 has been a strange year to say the least, on a personal level, it’s probably been my worst year in recent times as behind closed doors, let’s just say a lot of shit has hit the fan which certainly helps contribute to how I’ve reflected on the last 12 months.
Music however has been my solitude through these tough times, but rather than listening to every new band and release that’s doing the rounds, I’ve found myself being drawn towards records of yesteryear with the Butthole Surfers being the number 1 go to band as their fucked up tunes were the fitting soundtrack to my fucked up life, god bless Gibby & Co, you’ve helped me to see a glimmer of light at the end of a pitch black tunnel.
But what about the releases of 2014, well if I’m honest, I feel it’s been a lacklustre year, yes there have been moments of wonderment and amazement, albums that have swept the feet from under me and blown my mind, however, I’m sad to say these have been few and far between. Although the scene has certainly grown over the last 12 months and is possibly healthier than it’s ever been, I also feel it’s getting to the point of saturation, the number of average, at best, bands cropping up and just, blatantly, ripping off their peers, from the mass of retro-rock outfits to the unrelenting onslaught of doom & sludge bands having the words like Bong, Dope, Weed or Wizard in the name because they think it’s cool, not because they smoke copious amounts of the herb! This really has got to stop as I don’t know how much more I can take, where’s people’s imagination and creativity gone?
But then, hey, if they’re having fun and doing something they enjoy, who am I to argue, it’s just personally I’m starting to get very bored of it all and would sooner listen to Iron Monkey’s self-titled debut than some copycat, sorry! And don’t get me started on festivals, how many can one small (in the greater scheme of things) ‘scene’ have within a few weeks of each other, and that’s not including the influx of tours that, need to, happen at the same time, it seems everyone wants a slice of the action. I do wish them all luck though as they’re actually getting off their arses and doing something, no matter how big or small, but I for one can’t see it surviving in its current guise, we should work together, not against each other.
Why has this happened? A question I cannot answer, maybe the rest of the world has finally woken up to the despair that is life and the human rat race we’re expected to conform to, but rather than choosing the path of least resistance by following the masses like sheep, they look for an alternative lifestyle.
That lifestyle (rebellion?) is now easy to find thanks to the internet, with just a few clicks of a mouse you can find instant gratification thanks to the likes of Social Networking and also websites like Vice/Noisey who seem to have waded in and taken the scene by storm. Is that a bad thing? On one hand no, as it helps spread the word and get some great music, articles and videos out to the masses, for example, Kim Kelly’s in-depth article about Wino when he was deported from Norway, or the recent NOLA: Life Death And Heavy Blues From The Bayou video series and of course the Mr. Roadburn film which were all great viewing.
But on the other hand, you also have to wonder about their agenda, after all it was reported that in 2013 Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox invested $70m (all be it a 5% stake) into the publication and that man’s ethos is polar opposite to what our whole scene is based on. Whether Rupert Murdoch’s investment, and that his son James Murdoch is now on the board of directors, has had any impact on this, I really couldn’t say as I should imagine sub-editors, who actually understand the scene, will oversee what content is published, but if the corporation is happy to sell them a stake, you start to wonder if those pulling the strings actually care? I mean, you can stream a track from anarcho punk/crust stalwarts Dropdead with the news feed alongside it showing links to articles for media darlings (cash cows?) like Beyoncé or Rihanna, what’s that all about?
Maybe I’m just getting old, grumpy, deluded and just not going with the times as it all falls under the umbrella of entertainment right? But this year, I’ve found myself getting more and more cynical as the hipsters jump on the doom bandwagon, grow a beard, buy a cult 60’s film t-shirt, claim to worship Satan and start smoking weed (but do they actually inhale?) because Vice said it was cool – There, I’ve said it and it’s a very similar conversation I’ve had with various people over the last few months, so I can’t be alone can I or maybe I’m just an opinionated arsehole?
Anyway, enough doom & gloom, pun very much intended, as we were still blessed with some astonishing music throughout the last 12 months, my short list was nowhere near as long as previous years but after much deliberation, here‘s my top 10 albums of 2014…
10. Ancient Altar ‘Ancient Altar’
OK, I’m a hypocrite, after having a moan at the endless stream of sludge bands currently doing the rounds, my first choice is a well (kinda) sludge band, go figure! But what Ancient Altar offer isn’t your run of the mill EyeHateGod/Iron Monkey copyists, its heavy, its dark and more reminiscent of Noothgrush or even Ocean’s take on the genre but with a post-rock and groove twist that did remind me in places of the often forgotten Green Machine, a band to keep an eye on.
9. Necro Deathmort ‘EP2’
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge dub fan but I do like to dip my toe in every now and again and watching Mick Harris’ Scorn destroy the Custard Factory at Supersonic a few years back was a sight to behold, so when the new Necro Deathmort recording landed, I immediately paid attention as it’s a band I’ve had a soft spot for over the years. EP2, although still has the trademark Necro Deathmort sonics with their heavy take on dark dub, the duo have also experimented with Carpenter-esque horror sequences, the result is a harrowing soundtrack whose sole purpose is to scare the living shit out of you!
8. Godflesh ‘A World Lit Only By Fire’
Justin K Broadrick & GC Green are back with A World Lit Only By Fire, an album a few years ago we thought would never see the light of day and I for one is glad it did. Now in the past I have criticised bands for ‘cashing in’ and reforming, but it’s time for a reality check as musicians like Justin got ripped off left, right and centre ‘back in the day’, so why deny them another crack at the whip if the passion and drive is still there? And that passion and drive, for me anyway, is still there as it creeks and clangs throughout A World Lit Only By Fire displaying a side of Godflesh that harks back to the days of Streetcleaner & Pure, calculated depravity that only Godflesh know how control.
7. Fórn ‘The Departure Of Consciousness’
This debut release from Fórn, it has to be said, ripped me a new arsehole as this is one mother of a colossal release. As Jas mentioned in his intro when interviewing Fórn, a lot of doom bands these days just don’t ‘get it’ but I have to agree with his sentiments as Fórn most certainly do. The Departure Of Consciousness features 6 tracks of the most tortured doom I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of hearing this year and even the flourishes of black metal scattered throughout work and work well. Any fan of filth driven blackened doom should be seeking this out immediately!
6. Pallbearer ‘Foundations Of Burden’
As a couple of other people mentioned in their end of year review that they completely missed out on Pallbearer’s 2012 album Sorrow And Extinction, well I’m also guilty as charged your honour! I don’t know why this is as I loved their Demo, but that album just passed me by. However Foundations Of Burden I’m pleased to say didn’t and what a gem of an album it is. If you have a hunger for your mournful doom, that’s both crushingly heavy, but with an air of heartfelt emotion, then look no further and grab a copy of this 6 tracker, a band with a deservedly bright future ahead of them.
5. Årabrot ‘I Modi’
I’m very much becoming a fanboy of Årabrot, I think I have Sam from Beauty Witch to thank for that after he put them on in Manchester with The Body. A band I could never fully get into on record previously, but live, wow, they morph into an entirely different beast, so when I Modi landed I was hoping it would capture a similar atmosphere of them live. I was not disappointed, a haunting (mini) album indeed, and it’s not doom, stoner or sludge, to be honest, I don’t know or care where they should be pigeon holed, I Modi is just a masterclass on how to fuck with your cerebral cortex.
4. Serpent Venom ‘Of Things Seen & Unseen’
I fuckin’ love this band, yes, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a little biased as I’ve been friends with one of the members for a very very long time, but take that out of the equation, they are the epitome of what a doom band should be, heavy crushing riffs that are in no hurry to manifest themselves, mournful vocals, punishing drums and a groove that binds it all together, awesome stuff.
3. Serpentine Path ‘Emanations’
When you team up Unearthly Trance with Tim Bagshaw and Stephen Flam what’s not to get excited about? OK, ‘supergroups’ rarely deliver, but that can’t be said about Serpentine Path as their sophomore album Emanations destroys everything in its, erm, path. Two legendary guitarists pummel your senses, the Unearthly Trance backbone forge the crushing heaviness while Ryan Lipynsky stamps his authority on the dirge with his tormented vocals. An album that will leave you bloody and battered, but hell, it’s worth the trauma, death/doom how it should be!
2. Music Blues ‘Things Haven’t Gone Well’
Woah! This album took me by complete surprise, Stephen Tanner of Harvey Milk fame going at it solo and man, does he deliver in spades! Quite often these days, ‘solo’ records are a man (or woman) going back to basics with an acoustic guitar, not Music Blues, no siree! Stephen Tanner has given us an insight into his damaged brain with a disturbing amalgamation of instrumental tracks that are powerful, heavy and downright filth. To quote Tom in his review “Downer of the year”, a statement I couldn’t agree with more and was only knocked off the top step by the following…
1. Yob ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend’
OK, predictable I know and I can’t really add to what’s already been said about Clearing The Path To Ascend, amazing from start to finish, all 3 members mesh together like a well-oiled machine, moments of enlightened finesse to pulverising and crushing doom with the pinnacle being the final track Marrow. 4 tracks, 60 minutes and never a dull moment, outstanding!
In other highlights, as mentioned in my top 10, Årabrot have been a revelation to me, a band I could never seem to fully get into on record, but this year I saw them live twice, the second was a gig I was super chuffed to have been involved in (along with those kind folks at Future Noise) and when you take into account that Årabrot main man Kjetil Nernes had recently been given the all clear from throat cancer, it was pretty amazing he was touring in the first place! Despite sporting a lengthy scare down his neck, you really couldn’t tell as the band were on fire that night and speaking with Kjetil afterwards, he said he feels healthy and that his voice is stronger than it’s been in a while. Årabrot are a band that you really must witness live, they will leave you in awe.
After missing out on a lot of gigs this year due to personal setbacks, Yob & Pallbearer in Manchester was my first outing in a few months and I have to say, it was a night of sheer indulgence, the venue was sold-out and every band nailed it, including opener Ghold. It nearly didn’t happen though as when I was on my way to the venue, I was contemplating turning around and coming home as I just wasn’t feeling in the ‘mood’. I’m so glad I battled through my demons though as it was pretty much gig of the year and hell, Yob & Pallbearer’s albums both made it into my top 10 so only a fool would miss this opportunity.
Roadburn is, for me, still THE festival to go to, in recent times the line-up has shifted from being predominantly stoner/doom/sludge into a more kinda celebration of alternative music, for instance, not many festivals will have bands like despondent doomers Noothgrush sharing the same stage with the spell binding Prog of Magma, on paper it shouldn’t work, but for some reason it does! It was also a special festival for me this year as I was invited to be the technical editor for the first daily Roadburn fanzine Weirdo Canyon Dispatch working alongside JJ of The Obelisk, a team of writers I have the up-most of respect for and of course Walter & Jurgen from Roadburn, the experience was a complete honour to have been involved in, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave their free time to help make it happen.
Well that’s your lot, sorry for the rant which ended up going on longer than intended, maybe you agree, maybe you disagree so feel free to discuss… And I’d also like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all the contributors to the site, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, without their hard work and dedication, there would be no Sleeping Shaman, something I’m eternally grateful for.
Here’s to 2015, surely it can’t get any worse!
Scribed by: Lee Edwards