Monday, May 30, 2016

Albums of the decade so far

Each year of the 2010s has showcased the great diversity of modern metal. 2016 is also shaping up to be a memorable year, and we have yet to hear new Be'Lakor, Meshuggah, and Gojira! Below I will share ten of my favorite albums of the 2010s so far, in no order.

Thy Catafalque - Sgurr
Sgurr feels like a sleek, cold utopian future. Sgurr feels like climbing mountains, taking in all the sights of nature, like a stream of water. Sgurr feels organic as it feels mechanical. Thy Catafalque's sophomore Season of Mist release continues the project's indifference towards boundaries of music, much less subgenres. Songs blend and shift from black metal, to industrial, to thrash/death metal, all styles featuring heavy electronic undertones. Mastermind Tamas Katai's immense creativity shines through the songwriting, as well as his fantastic senses of dynamics and melody. Some of these songs have enough good ideas for entire EPs!

Mgla - Exercises in Futility
Exercises in Futility is an inviting experience of a modern black metal album. While Mgla play dark, ominous music and bark rasping, nihilistic lyrics, their music is very melodic, and even features midtempo headbang grooves. One of the first things you will notice about Mgla is their phenomenal drummer. Blast beats abound in Mgla's work, but drummer Darkside accents the beats with fascinating syncopated cymbal-work. Mgla play hypnotic, modernized-Burzum-school black metal, and Darkside's work on the kit keeps every riff interesting.

Ne Obliviscaris - Citadel
Explosive. Epic. Progressive. Melodic. Internet-metal sensation Ne Obliviscaris delivered a possibly-timeless progressive extreme metal album in 2014's Citadel. "Progressive extreme metal" because these guys don't solidly fit into one subgenre. Their melodic black metal influence is perhaps more noticeable than others, but their music is overall a massive synthesis of styles, featuring jazzy breaks not unlike a more upbeat Opeth. Citadel features some outstanding songwriting, each of the three metal tracks presenting a musical journey through buildups, massive dynamic explosions, and in most cases a moving climax, though not in the spirit of "crescendocore."

NeO stick in a listener's mind from their fantastic attention to detail and incredibly satisfying explosiveness. Notably on Citadel, the harsh and clean vocalists sometimes simultaneously sing different lyrics - this is music worth following the lyrics for.

Mare Cognitum - Phobos Monolith
Melodic/atmospheric outer space black metal done very, very well. On Phobos Monolith, Mare Cognitum present thoroughly great songwriting, a fantastic sense of melody and dynamics, and outstanding musicianship. All four songs on this album feature fantastic layering, enveloping ambiance, and outstanding drumming. Mare Cognitum also incorporate some death metal riffs, which never feel out-of-place in this majestic journey through mystical space. The dynamic releases on Phobos Monolith are particularly satisfying.

Moonsorrow - Jumalten Aika
Moonsorrow are, straight-up, a phenomenal band. They've never let up on their originality, ambition and epic scope. Jumalten Aika is in those ways what you would expect from Moonsorrow, yet it is its own beast, and in many ways sees Moonsorrow evolve further. There are more parts per song on Jumalten Aika than on the similarly-dark and aggressive Verisakeet, and each of these parts tend to feature more noticeable layering. Jumalten Aika features outstanding songwriting, loads of memorable riffs and dynamic changes, and a captivating vibe that is equal parts folk metal-fist-pump and an epic journey through cold and treacherous landscapes.

Ash Borer/Fell Voices - Split LP
The best songs of two of the best post-black metal bands today. Ash Borer and Fell Voices' split LP turned heads in the underground black metal scene when it was released, and remains a hidden monolith of the style. The cryptic artwork and lack of song titles or lyrics give a decent impression of the vibes you're in for. Both bands clearly put their all into these 17-20+ minute songs. Ash Borer's track jumps right into intensity, and moves from part to part of flowing, tense black metal riffs, until a focused buildup into one of the greatest releases in post-black metal I've experienced. Fell Voices' song is a somber, cold and lonely experience, with a larger dynamic range than most of Ash Borer's part of this split. Both tracks feature phenomenal drumming, Ash Borer's drumming entailing interesting syncopation and Fell Voices' sometimes breaking to ludicrous blast beats.

Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury
With Teethed Glory and Injury, Altar of Plagues created a work of art out of modern black metal. There is a strong and very dark industrial vibe throughout this album. One of the first differences you'll notice between Teethed Glory and Injury and Altar of Plagues' earlier works are the number of songs and their lengths. Both White Tomb and Mammal featured four ~10+ minute songs of 'crescendocore' post-black metal done very well. Teethed Glory and Injury retains its post-black metal songwriting style, but completes its ideas in shorter times, with faster tension. Parts of this album are jarringly dissonant, as others are somber and captivating. Altar of Plagues ended their career with this album - in my opinion, this was a great artistic decision, as Teethed Glory and Injury feels like a statement in this style.

Uneven Structure - Februus
Top-tier prog-djent. Uneven Structure once called themselves "post-metal without guitar cabinets," which fits them funnily well. This is indeed post-metal, utilizing massive ambient soundscapes and huge dynamic releases - the main difference versus most post-metal is Uneven Structure's infectiously groovy djent riffs. Februus is packed with memorable riffs! This is a nuanced album, very worth multiple listens. Their lyrical concept of an entity learning its place is also worth a Google.

Alcest - Ecailles de Lune
Alcest at the top of their game, in my opinion. Neige's songwriting benefits greatly from the added dynamic range of black metal, versus the very light blackened influences on preceding album Souvenirs(...). Ecailles de Lune is full of warm, melancholic and heartbreaking melodies. Parts will hypnotize you, others will move your neck as well as your heart. Neige's shrieks on Ecailes de Lune are great - they feel like a drowning spirit, screaming as it falls into the ocean.

Behemoth - The Satanist
The Satanist is something else. Crafted with newfound resolve after mainman Nergal's struggle with leukemia, this album is furious, dark and massive. The Satanist is full of memorable riffs, haunting ambiance, huge blast beats and Nergal's exceptionally angry-sounding screaming, and there is no filler to be found. This is twisted, evil music, and you will have riffs such as on "Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer" playing in your head for days. This album shows a band done fucking around, I am very curious to see how this revived fury carries over to Behemoth's next album.

Thank you for reading, I hope at least one metal nerd finds an album they enjoy from this. What are your favorite albums of this decade so far?

Monday, May 9, 2016

10 Great Melodic Metal Songwriter/Guitarists

I'm a huge fan of catchy guitar leads in metal, whether they are placed as riffs, solos or ambiance. Here, I'll list ten of my favorite melody-writers, all of whom are among my biggest influences as a listener and guitarist.

Anders Nystrom - Katatonia, Bloodbath, Diabolical Masquerade
Songs: Rainroom, Leaders, July, Without God, Dispossession, Brave

My favorite guitarist, Nystrom's melodies are usually minimalist, yet uncompromising in catchiness. With Brave Murder Day in particular, Nystrom's playing taught me less can be more as a metal guitarist. He would repeat hypnotic, emotive leads over a droning wall of sound; coupled with Mikael Akerfeldt's screaming on that album, it made for a dramatic call-and response between where your focus would go. Besides his atmospheric lead style, Nystrom is a creative riff maker. The Great Cold Distance is full of badass riffs, and the melodies on Last Fair Deal Gone Down are heartbreaking.

Neige - Alcest, Amesoeurs
Songs: Percees de Lumiere, Sur l'ccean couler de fer, Souvernirs d'un autre monde, Faiblesse des Sens

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Alcest is "touching." There's a heartfelt quality to Neige's music, both in Alcest and the short-lived supergroup Amesoeurs. Neige's melodicism shines through his feelsy guitar playing, whether he's playing chords, arpeggios, or blackgaze leads. Also notably, Neige's vocals act as an additional melodic layer in Alcest's music, whether he's singing hypnotic melodies or shrieking like a drowning wraith.

John Haughm and Don Anderson - Agalloch
Songs: In The Shadow of Our Pale Companion, You Were But A Ghost In My Arms, Fire Above Ice Below, Limbs, Faustian Echoes, The Melancholy Spirit

It's hard to do justice to the quality of Agalloch's work in a paragraph. Their first three albums, especially, are full of memorable songs, and all of their work features remarkable attention to detail. Like Alcest, there is a touching quality of their sound, especially on The Mantle. Agalloch present this feeling, this sincerity, in a grandiose manner. Their music evokes images of contemplative solitude and nature.

Tamas Katai and Juhasz Janos - Thy Cataflque
Songs: Oldodo Formak a Halal Titokzatos Birodalmab, Szervelten, Feher Berek, Csillagkoho, Elo Leny, Minden Test Fu

While Katai was not originally the guitarist in Thy Catafalque, he's picked up where former axeman Juhasz Janos left off after the superb Roka Hasa Radio. While there are many aspects to Thy Catafalque's unique sound, one of the first traits I picked up on was how heavy their riffing is compared to any other black metal-influenced artist I've heard. Songs like "Szervelten" and "Fekete Mekzok" feature pummeling industrial and doom metal riffs. Another fascinating part of Thy Catafalque's music is Katai's heavy use of what I've read to be traditional Hungarian melodies. These aspects are just small parts of the huge product that Thy Catafalque is. Like Agalloch and many other great post metal bands, Thy Catafalque features great layering.

A - Ash Borer
Songs: Untitled (from Fell Voices split), In The Midst of Life We Are In Death, Removed Forms, My Curse Was Raised In The Darkness Against A Doomsday Silence

Here we have an anonymous artist, straight from his post-black metal band with vocals and no lyrics - how kvlt! Besides this tropeyness - at this point, a shameless aspect of black metal anyway - Ash Borer are a powerful sonic force. As with many post metal bands, this is largely due to the band's tightness, how they together produce a wall of sound. Despite how talented their drummer is, you can't help noticing the guitars listening to Ash Borer. Especially on their self-titled LP, the lead guitars are often playing a tense counterpoint lead. You can hear this from the beginning of "Rest, You Are The Lightning," but A's sense of melody and direction in his guitar playing shines on the other tracks as well. "In The Midst of Life, We Are In Death" features riff after riff, cumilating in a furious, Norway-esque climax until dissolving into silence.

Aaron Weaver and Nathan Weaver - Wolves in the Throne Room
Songs: A Shimmering Radiance (Diadem of 12 Stars), Subterranean Initiation, Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog

A well-known Cascadian black metal band, WitTR have a gift for affective nuances in their songwriting. From their majestic debut LP, Diadem of 12 Stars, to the darker Black Cascade, these guys have consistently proven to be masters of "crescendocore." You can hear influence from their creative use of dynamics in great post black metal bands like Altar of Plagues. Check the climax of "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog."

Dan Swano - Edge of Sanity, Witherscape, Nightingale, Pan.Thy.monium
Songs: The entire Crimson and Purgatory Afterglow albums

Swano has done so much for progressive music. Besides his impressive work as a producer, Dan Swano left an impression on progressive extreme metal with Edge of Sanity. In their mid-era, almost every song was full of memorable leads and riffs. Just listen to Crimson. Does a 40-minute epic of top-notch progressive/melodic death metal, centered around a bleak dystopian sci-fi story, not sound fascinating?

Jason Mendonca - Akercocke
Songs: Verdelet, Words That Go Unspoken, Leviathan, Axiom, Inner Sanctum

Mendonca has never been without a talented co-axeman, but Akercocke's constantly-evolving songwriting can be solidly pinpointed on Jason and phenomenal drummer David Gray. From Choronzon on, Akercocke deliver a bombardment of sinister riffs, and delve deeper into progressive and experimental aspects of extreme music. By Antichrist, no one sounds solidly like Akercocke, despite their take on brutal death metal being a clear Suffocation nod. Their works drown a listener in an unmatched, sinister atmosphere. I am personally hyped for their recently-announced reunion.

Mikael Akerfeldt - Opeth
Songs: Black Rose Immortal, Advent, Karma, Blackwater Park, The Moor

What would a list of dark progressive metal artists be without this guy? The quality of Opeth's entire catalog is almost unmatched in metal. Opeth are also a constantly-evolving band, and the majestic-yet-freezing, harmony-driven music on Morningrise sounds little like the brutal onslaught of Deliverance or the tight and polished prog metal found on Watershed, save for somehow sounding like the same band. Look to a number of interviews with Akerfeldt; it's no secret his strength is songwriting. There is no right album to start listening to Opeth with.

Mikolaj "M" Zentara - Mgla
Songs: Exercises in Futility V, Exercises in Futility VI, With Hearts to None I, With Hearts to None VII

Mgla have recently been noticed for their Exercises in Futility album, delivering a powerful, nihilistic statement of droney black metal. Mgla are not really breaking ground in their Burzum-school style, but they just pull off this style very well. Listening to With Hearts to None, a listener is drawn to Mgla's odd melodicism, and how their subtle changes in drumming or layering drive most of their songs. Exercises focuses more on building up each song, and more often breaks to evil grooves as on "Exercises III" and V.

In the future I hope to devote more time to each individual artist. I hope this gave you a decent impression of my taste, and gave you a few metal artists to check out. Thanks for reading!