January 9, 2013

VAN DAMNED'S BEST OF 2012



I didn't do a lot of writing about music this year. I've been working on a large-scale writing project that's subsumed a lot of my free time and, frankly, I'd kept the music crit candle burning too brightly for too long. The wick, as they say, was growing short. But in between manic, protracted binges of of murky ambient, witchy dub and dark jazz -- the interstitial soundtrack to a collaborative science fiction novel that will hopefully see the light of day sometime mid-2013 -- I managed to sneak in a few hefty helpings of heavy music that served both as an audial palate cleanser and a motivating kick to my brain's ass. Below are a few of my favorites from this year. I expect I'll see you 'round these parts here sooner or later. Until then, take care and listen to Mercyful Fate.

Cannibal Corpse
10

Cannibal Corpse
Torture
[Metal Blade]

After 2009's hit-and-miss Evisceration Plague, Buffalo's finest are back, carving out a standout entry in their already storied career. With age comes wisdom, and Torture benefits from the latter in spades -- songs are tighter, riffs more economical, direction more focused -- without sacrificing any of the gleefully vile and bloody filth that makes Cannibal Corpse, well, you know. Want proof? Just listen to the crawling chug of "Scourge of Iron" (a particular favorite) or the throwback jackhammer assault of "As Deep as the Knife Will Go." Do u even lift, bro?

Martyrdod
9

Martyrdöd
Paranoia
[Southern Lord]

Ever since Tragedy launched themselves rudderless into an endless, Amebix-worshipping sea, Sweden's Martyrdöd have run up the slack, delivering the D-beaten, twin-guitar crusctore epic of the year. Kudos to Lord Greg for picking up these skinny, raw-throated punkers, despite the hard-sell of an album sung entirely in Swedish -- they deserve the wider exposure, regardless. And if there's one thing that's been proven over the last 40+ years, it's that headbanging is its own universal language. Skål!

The Howling Wind
8

The Howling Wind
Of Babalon
[Profound Lore Records]

With Mr. Crowley's Scarlet Woman guiding their (left-hand) path, guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lipynsky and drummer Tim Call have crafted a challenging yet surprisingly human slab of frost-bitten black metal that owes as much to Norway's Second Wave as it does to the duo's individual main projects, namely the psychedelic doom of Lipynsky's Unearthly Trance and the utter, crawling dread of Call's masterful Aldebaran. Of Babalon is yet another feather for Profound Lore honcho Chris Bruni's already decorated cap.

Occultation
7

Occultation
Three & Seven
[Profound Lore Records]

A couple witchy broads tossing off some half-baked retro rehash -- been there, done that, right? Wrong. The two lasses (and lad) in Occultation sound unnervingly committed in ways that some of those other trend-riders could only dream of sounding. Featuring Negative Plane mastermind Nameless Void on guitar, Three & Seven is a truly creepy, Hammer Horror-ready miasma of reverb-drenched proto-doom and occult psychedelia, woven through with spidery, Dick Dale-on-acid surf guitar licks, sepulchral organ runs and ghostly vocal harmonies. Play this at your next Halloween party. (Seriously.)

Aluk Todolo
6

Aluk Todolo
Occult Rock
[The Ajna Offensive]

The other Surf Black Metal album on my list this year, the cheekily(?) named Occult Rock is, to say the least, an odd beast. France's willfully obtuse Aluk Todolo are a black metal band in only the loosest terms, having more in common with Can or Amon Duul II than, say, Immortal, but this sprawling, 82-minute double-disc opus is raw in all the right places and infinitely addicting, each track revealing a more fractured version of some strange, depraved vision that demands return visits.

Pig Destroyer
5

Pig Destroyer
Book Burner
[Relapse Records]

The year's most-anticipated album dropped with all the grace of a lead brick to the forehead. Grind is, by its nature, a very un-subtle art, but riff wizard Scott Hull, electronicist Blake Harrison and new skinpounder Adam Jarvis have concocted a modern blasterpiece of noise- and sample-heavy mini-shredfests that underpin a plethora of vocal provocateur J.R. Hays' scary/smart short stories. The meaner, metal little brother to El-P's hyper-literate space boom-bap, Book Burner nails all of 2012's misdirected fears, frustrations and fantasies to the motherfucking wall.

Mgla
4

Mgła
With Hearts Toward None
[Northern Heritage]

In the four years since 2008's weird and wonderful Groza was released, Cracow black metal duo Mgła (pronounced "Mgwah," "fog" in Polish) have only gotten better, slowly constructing a landmark rebuttal to orthodox black metal's stale dogma and strict genre piety. For one, it's incredibly melodic -- compared to the atonal, buzzing roar of many of his contemporaries, guitarist/vocalist M. riffs in a singular thematic voice that's more Dissection than Deathspell -- and drummer Darkside's ride cymbal swings like groovy chick in a pair of tight-fitting bellbottoms. With Hearts is as khold as they come, but shot through with blood-warm humanity and real emotion. Song No. 2 (they're all named "With Hearts Toward None" and are sequentially numbered in Roman numerals) is so good I want to throw up.

Panopticon
3

Panopticon
Kentucky
[Handmade Birds/Pagan Flames]

The story is almost too good to be true. Dude mixes traditional Appalachian bluegrass with absolutely shredding black metal and everybody shits their pants because who would have ever dreamed to put the two together, much less to such stunning results? And he played all the instruments himself? AND THEN he donates the bulk of the proceeds to local Kentucky anti-coal nonprofits? I'll put it to you this way: if Austin Lunn ever starts a newsletter, I'll be the first to subscribe.

Pallbearer
2

Pallbearer
Sorrow and Extinction
[Profound Lore Records]

This is the FAQ I have written for first-time Pallbearer listeners: 


Yes, this album is as good as everyone says it is; Yes, it is their first record; Yes, they are from Little Rock, Ark.; Yes, like Bill Clinton; Yes, they are very nice and funny guys; No, it's not my problem you don't like doom metal; Yes, I mean like Black Sabbath-type metal; Yes, that kind of music is pretty slow; Um, '70s prog, '80s power metal, Candlemass, Ozzy, panel vans, beer, cheap weed; Yes, this is "one of those records that sounds better on vinyl in a dark room under a black light;" Yes, I mean that as a compliment; Yes, they kill live; Yes, the whole thing is pretty incredible.

El-P
1

El-P
Cancer 4 Cure
[Fat Possum Records]


As usual, the top spot on my year-end list goes to the record that takes up the most of my time, the one that connects most intimately with me throughout the year -- the soundtrack of my inner life for the better part of 12 months. This year, it's a hip hop record. Cry false and let loose the dogs of flamewar if you must, but them's the breaks.

I found myself on the go a lot this year, heading, invariably, to or from somewhere, always a minute or two late, reviewing what I had to do that day, fighting distractions or doubt and fretting over yet another deadline, plotting just how, exactly, I could fit everything together. It's a routine most of us are used to.

Brooklyn producer/MC El-P certainly gets it. After a five-year absence, Jaime Meline aka El Producto aka El-P has blown back into the public eye with a vengeance, producing and performing on of the most starkly realistic responses to a modern zeitgeist filled with escalating risks and graver consequences. I work for a major market network news affiliate and ply my trade in death, drought, rape, political strife and economic uncertainty on a daily basis. The facts of life, I've learned, are cold, ugly and brutish. The world is not a friendly place, but it's one that El-P seems intimately familiar with.  The darkly futuristic beats, synths and breaks that form the backbone of Cancer for Cure resonated with me in ways like nothing else did. Incidentally -- or perhaps not -- they became a reverse-image of the 2012 I came to know, a mirror to the polluted collective national psyche that continues to reveal itself, year after year.

If that's not heavy enough, even Cancer's fictional narratives are chockablock with too-close-for-comfort references to domestic abuse issues ("For My Upstairs Neighbor") and soldiers facing death on a battlefield ("Tougher Colder"), and are all the more provocative as a result. The subterranean bass (and Zola Jesus live cameo) on "Stay Down" hearken to the deepest, darkest Portishead crushers and the sci-fi samba beat and wailing chorus of "Works Every Time" plays like TV on the Radio on suicide watch. Cancer is a death trip, and one not for the faint of heart.

But it's not all doom and gloom. There are moments of brightness -- that "Firestarter"-esque stutter beat that kicks off opener "Request Denied" is pure sex, for instance, and standout verses from compatriots Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire and Danny Brown on "Oh Hail No" both vie for Cameo of the Year awards.

But Cancer For Cure is, at its very core, a dark record for dark times. Gorgeous and immaculately constructed, sure, but reflective of the diseased and faltering world that bore it.

I don't know. Maybe 2013 will be the year it all comes together. We keep going to bed expecting a better tomorrow -- maybe we'll wake up to one.

But I'm not so sure. It's a cold world out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm getting a little frosty myself.


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MOST-HONORABLE MENTIONS
Aesop Rock - Skelethon

Agalloch - Faustian Echoes EP

Ash Borer - Cold of Ages

Asphyx - Deathhammer

Between the Buried and Me - The Parallax II: Future Sequence

Blut aus Nord - 777: Cosmosophy

Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind

Crystal Castles - III

DIIV - Oshin
Drudkh - Eternal Turn of the Wheel
High on Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis
Into the Void - Heavy 70's Metal Meltdown - Part III (compilation)
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music
Killing Joke - MMXII
Krallice - Years Past Matter
Mount Eerie - Ocean Roar
No Gang Colors - Hacking Heaven
Rise and Fall - Faith
Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell - Don't Hear It … Fear It!
Velnias - RuneEater
Witchrist - The Grand Tormentor
Woods of Ypres - Woods V - Grey Skies & Electric Light
Wrathprayer - The Sun of Moloch
The xx - Coexist

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TAPES

Cerebrate - Mind's Eye in a Black Freeze
Falls of Rauros - The Light that Dwells in Rotten Wood
Graven Rite - The Summoner's Pit Demo
Hell - III
Innumerable Forms - Frozen to Death Promo 2012
Only Child - Demo Cassette Tape
Skullshitter - demo

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UNTITLED 2013 SCI-FI PROJECT SOUNDTRACK

Andy Stott - Luxury Problems
Burial - Kindred EP
Clams Casino - Instrumental Mixtape 2
Clubroot - III
Desolate - Celestial Light Beings
Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes
Holy Other - Held
Raime - Quarter Turns Over a Living Line
Vatican Shadow - Kneel Before Religious Icons
Vatican Shadow - September Cell

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TOP POP SONGS

Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"

Bobby Tank - "Afterburn"
Calvin Harris feat. Ne-Yo - "Let's Go"
Ca$h Out - "Cashin' Out"
DIIV - "Doused"
Ellie Goulding - "Hanging On"
Jay-Z & Kanye West - "Niggas in Paris"
Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz - "Mercy"
Muse - "Madness"
Silent Rider - "Skin"
Swedish House Mafia - "Greyhound"
Tyga - "Rack City"
Wiz Khalifa - "Work Hard, Play Hard"

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RIP


Mark Reale (Riot), Jim Marshall (Marshall Amplification), Trondr Nefas (Urgehall), Mike Scaccia (Rigor Mortis, Ministry)

1 comment:

Mike said...

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