Wednesday, December 10, 2014

End-of-Year Madness

The main site where I write reviews has published its Top 25 albums of the year list, and you can read it right here! I helped contribute to the list, but a number of my top picks aren't on the group list, so stay tuned for our individual lists. I'll be posting blurbs on my Top 20 at least over here, so keep your eyes open. In the mean time, I'll leave you with this lovely piece of music, which took the #12 slot of our staff list.

Of the album, I said this: "Conventional wisdom tells us that one-man black metal projects are meant to be depressive, misanthropic, and self-destructive. With Aura, Andy Marshall proves that not only can they be uplifting, welcoming, and life-giving, they can be truly beautiful. Yes, there is sorrow and longing in the sounds of Saor, but it is a sorrow that cleanses, not destroys. For an hour, Aura uses blasts, tremolos, and screams to make you believe in a better world." Give the whole thing a listen, and join the discussion over on Last Rites!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels

I have a new review up over on This time it's Mobile of Angels by Witch Mountain. And yeah, I loved it. Go read the whole review over there.

Witch Mountain - Mobile of Angels (review by Keith Ross)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

My Reviews This Year

If you're here on The Blackened Edge reading this post, all it takes is a little scroll downward to see that I haven't updated the website in a year. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been doing anything. Here's a quick list of the reviews that I've put together for Last Rites. While we're on the topic, I highly recommend the scribes at Last Rites for any heavy metal opinions you might need. They're a great group of writers and I'm fortunate to be able to work with them.

Sure, that's not a huge number of albums, but it's not nothing. I also regularly contribute to group pieces that Last Rites publishes, such as the Devil's Dozen pieces that highlight great tracks from heavy metal groups of yore.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I'm Still Alive

It's been a while since I updated here. I'm still listening to music, that's for sure. Let me give you a quick rundown on a couple things.

1) I moved from Massachusetts to Ohio
2) I got a new job as a programmer
3) I nearly lost my entire music collection because I was sloppy when upgrading my computer

The lesson here is that even if you think you're extremely tech savvy (I work with computers for a living, here), you can still be really dumb. Always have a backup. These days, you can buy a multiple terabyte drive for a hundred bucks. If that's what it takes to back up your music collection, do it. It'll be a whole lot less expensive than repurchasing it. Even if you have it all backed up in cloud services or can redownload it from Amazon or Bandcamp or re-rip it from CDs, just having a record of what you own backed up somewhere can be very, very helpful.

I'll try to give some quick impressions of the music I'm listening to soon.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best of 2013: Top 30 - 21

Continuing yesterday's summation of the year, let's take a look at another ten albums.This will take us right to the cusp of the Top 20, which is traditionally as large of a list as I've put together. But since I've listened to so much more music than I typically do, I thought I would put together a larger list. Here we go. These may not have made the Top 20, but they're all well worth your time.

30. Antigama - Meteor

Grindcore is a pretty touchy genre for me. Occasionally, I'll hear something that absolutely captures my attention. Most of the time, I just can't be bothered. The sixth release from Poland's Antigama falls into that occasional category. The tracks are long enough to allow contemplation, but not so long that they exhaust the listener. The three tracks that last over three minutes are that length because they brought the tempos down, not because they tried going full-bore too long. Since gore and splatter themes bore me, outer space was a great place to take grindcore. "Stargate," which intersperses grind blasts with space station sound effects transitions perfectly into "The Signal." Album closer "Untruth" brings listeners back down again with gang vocals and big tom beats. One of the few grind albums that keeps drawing me back.

29. Vreid - Welcome Farewell

Black metal, of course, is well within my regular listening realm. Imagine my surprise when Vreid took their war metal sound in a more black n' roll direction. The result was a band that sounds refreshed and ready to bring black metal forward out of the '90s and into the '10s."The Ramble" and "The Reap" are stand-outs in this new directions, while more traditional tracks like "Way of the Serpent" and "Sights of Old" assure listeners that Vreid still knows how to put Norwegian defiance into song. "Black Waves" brings some grumbled clean vocals into the mixing pot, and "At the Brook" has strummed guitars—I'd love to see Vreid put these elements all together and do their own take on the black metal ballad. Welcome Farewell had the misfortune to come out in February, and so was quickly overwhelmed by the albums at the top of my list. If it had come out in May or June, perhaps I would have given it more time.

28. Satyricon - Satyricon

Speaking of black metal ballads, Satyricon has one, and it's even better than "They Rode On." "Phoenix" has a Goth Rock feel to it that meshes quite well with black metal. The entire album has a depressed, almost lackadaisical feeling to it, which may sound horrible, but I find to be a nice change from the phoned-in riffs of Age of Nero. For the most part, Frost isn't playing fast blasts here—you'll need to listen to 1349 for the real fury these days—but "Walker Upon the Winds" is a highlight for those who like it fast. Where Satyricon really excels, though, is when it takes things into a moody place with the aformentioned "Phoenix," "The Infinity of Time and Space," and "Tro Og Kraft."

27. Soilwork - The Living Infinite

I will admit that The Living Infinite is too long. If it had been trimmed down to size, it probably could have made my Top 20. But despite having some dull moments, it also has some of the  best riffs that Soilwork has ever written. Album opener "Spectrum of Eternity" absolutely clobbers, with speed, catchy hooks, and a string section that reminds me of the old BBC The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. So wins all around there. The album continues to dish the melo-death with songs like "This Momentary Bliss," the "Living Infinite" (I and II) and "Rise Above the Sentiment." Disk One gets more spins from me than Disk Two, and I hope that Soilwork practices a little more self-restraint in the future. But after a disappointing few years, it's nice to hear the band excelling again.

26. Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen

I'm not sure when Ihsahn got the idea that the best way to make an album cover was to give it a difficult to pronounce name and then scramble the letters up on a black and white image. He's wrong about that. Musically, however, he's still one of my favourite progressive metal artists. Ihsahn is a master of syncopation and counterpoint. The pieces he writes fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, even when he explores the less extreme realms of metal. The album has more in common with Peccatum than with Emperor. The epic "Regen" is a personal favourite and I still have to dive further in to the electronically brutalized second half. Were we ready for a new Ihsahn album? Probably not. I'm still listening to Eremita (shit, I'm still listening to After) and so haven't given Das Seelenbrechen nearly the attention it deserves. But it does deserve your attention. Ihsahn has never repeated himself, which is more than most artists can say.

25. Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Speaking of repeating yourself, Inquisition's highly regarded 2013 release has a major problem, and that problem is a little album called Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The greatest duo in US black metal, Inquisition are known for their riffs, their riffs, and their riffs. Also for Dagon's frog-croak vocals, but mostly that other thing. And this album has them. It has them in abundance, and Incubus beats the skins in a non-stop frenzy. Bass guitars? Don't need 'em. This is black metal, people. Anti-cosmic Satanic mysticism provides lyrical fodder and this is the second Paolo Girardi cover to appear on my list. The thing is, as good as Obscure Verses is, it mostly just makes me want to listen to Ominous Doctrines, from which it borrows a number of riffs. If the other album didn't exist, Inquisition would probably have made my Top 5. But why drink inferior wine when you have an unlimited supply of a superior vintage?

24. Voices - From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain

Winning the award for the most cumbersome album title of the year (at least in music that I would actually want to listen to), Voices is the  new blackened death project from a number of former members of Akercocke. It's furious, messy, and delicious. The album mixes up vocal styles and the black/death balance to keep things interesting—"Eyes Become Black," "This Too Shall Pass," and "Everything You Believe Is Wrong" are songs I keep coming back to. Unfortunately, I think that "Sexual Isolation" misses the mark in striving for the rarefied air occupied by "Shelter From the Sand," but this first outing by Voices is a powerful one. I for one hope that the band has a strong future ahead of them.

23. Saor - Roots

When I first heard this album, the band was named Àrsaidh, but a month later they changed their name to Saor because they had grown tired of people not being able to pronounce their name. Well, guess what, guys. I still am not sure that I'm pronouncing your name right. That silliness aside, the music is damn good. Usually when you think of a one-man black metal project, you think of the ultra-depressive suicidal projects like Xasthur or the ultra-controversial projects like Burzum. Saor hails from Scotland and plays triumphant folk music. Roots is only three long songs plus an interlude, but the combination of beautiful beautifully played flutes, bagpipes, and strings (it's unclear what is sampled and what is played live, that's how good it is) with melodic arpeggiated guitars and tom-heavy tribal drumming make each song an immersive experience. I listened to a lot of bands trying to do Scottish folk metal this year. Saor gets it right.

22. Woe - Withdrawal

Withdrawal is Woe's second full-length as a quartet, and follows the black n' roll trend that seems to be sweeping the metal world lately. I mean, it's still clearly black metal. Opener "This is the End of the Story" has a great blast/tremolo passage that always gets stuck in my head for days. "Song of My Undoing" is the weirdest song here, and probably one of the most hated. But I love it. "All Bridges Burned" segues clean guitar strumming right into shredding tremolos while "Exhausted" draws on some hardcore influence. Withdrawal has a nice mix of styles with a constant raw guitar sound that pays homage to those lo-fi days of metal. The clean vocals aren't nearly as strong here as they are on Satyricon, so the band might want to tone that down in the future. But I think this is an album that has been unwisely passed over simply because it's not as strong as their last masterpiece. I'm still waiting for the acoustic album Loudly, Dramatically, though.

21. Domovoyd - Oh, Sensibility

Drugs, okay? I don't do them myself, but this album was obviously written for those that do by those who have. The cover art disturbs me, but the music inside is entrancing. This is droning fuzzy doom from Finland. I mean, where else? Together with Oranssi Pazuzu and their absolutely incomprehensible language, Domovoyd has convinced me that Finland isn't actually inhabited by normal human beings. And that's totally cool. Whenever I want to have an altered reality experience, I put on Finnish music. Seriously, though, if you like stoner doom, psychedelic doom, doom with swans, or any kind of bizarre out-of-the-ordinary experiences, you need Domovoyd in your life. Nasty prisms, good sir.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best of 2013: Top 40 - 31

In my last post, I said that I would be breaking down my favourite albums this year out of the nearly 300 that I've had the pleasure or misfortune to listen to. So let's get to it. My Top 10 is already available on Last Rites, where I am an author, so check that out once you've explored these picks

40. Darkthrone - The Underground Resistance

I sometimes debate with myself whether the Darkthrone of the 2000s ought to even be considered the same band as the Darkthrone of the 1990s, since their music is so different. But that's a fairly irrelevant debate when the music continues to be this rocking and rolling. With The Underground Resistance, Darkthrone step outside of the crust punk line they've been following and reach back to even earlier 80s metal. Sure, Darkthrone has always drawn from Celtic Frost, but never has it been so baldfaced. The near 14-minute "Leave No Cross Unturned" is guaranteed to stick in your head for days. The album was in pretty constant rotation for me for about a month, but after that it dropped off considerably, resulting in its relatively low position here.

39. Cultes Des Ghoules - Henbane, or Sonic Compendiuym of the Black Arts

A solid hour of impenetrable black metal, Henbane is scary like heavy metal ought to be. The sheer length of these songs makes the second full-length from these Poles a challenging listen, but it's a rewarding one. Steeped in witchcraft lore, you could consider the album cheesy and/or historically inaccurate. Or you could stop listening to the Wiccans and other modern witch apologists and get with the black magic vibe. Subtle additions of flutes and bells as well as spoken word samples add to that medieval eerie feeling. Consider that the band is named for one of the most powerful black magic texts in the Cthulhu Mythos, and you'll have to admit that they're doing something right.

38.  Deafheaven - Sunbather

Practically the opposite of Cultes Des Ghoules, Deafheaven have created a piece of black metal that completely rejects all the old stereotypes. This is music for indie music nerds who wear yellow skinny jeans and thick black glasses. Including plenty of shoegaze and post-rock elements, Deafheaven is just as influenced by Explosions In the Sky and The Album Leaf as by Mayhem or Darkthrone. More so, perhaps. Sure, it's easy to make fun of the fucking pink album cover, but try to get beyond that to the music itself. Deafheaven has picked up where Alcest left off. The fact that it finds itself so low on this list speaks more to my tiredness with post-metal in 2013 than its lack of quality. Sunbather will likely be the poster child for intelligent metal for some time to come.

37. Argus - Beyond the Martyrs

Another victim of my melancholic tastes this year, Pennsylvania doomsters Argus are back with their third full length, and it's just as rollicking and heavy-metal-tastic as their previous two. This is the sound of a band playing great traditional metal with no pretensions. The rock-solid bass of Andy Ramage gives a heft to this album that you sometimes forget about when you listen to black metal all the time (like this critic does), and the guitars draw direct from the blues and rock classics like the Allman Brothers and Thin Lizzy as much as from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. But the hands-down MVP of this album is Butch Balich's soaring vocal delivery. Argus is still criminally unrecognised, and I suppose I'm not helping them nearly enough.

36. Norma Jean - Wrongdoers

Norma Jean's status as "a Christian band" has likely lead to them being overlooked by a vast number of heavy metal fans. As a kid who grew up on dc Talk, however, Norma Jean were one of my first truly aggressive bands. Over the years, they've only improved their noisy post-hardcore delivery, and their recent departure from long-time label Solid State Records has only been a benefit to them in the musical department (if not in album sales). Despite a number of line-up changes, Wrongdoers feels like a more band-centric effort than 2010's Meridional. Wrongdoers has a stronger second half than its beginning, so I encourage listeners to give it a couple full spins and not give up early.

35. Scale the Summit - The Migration

Creating an instrumental metal album that doesn't just sound like brainless wankery these days is a difficult undertaking. This Texas quartet somehow manages it while still more than fulfilling anybody's guitar virtuoso quota. I think this is because of how much their songs depend on melody and instrument interplay and not just on sweep arpeggios like many modern bands display. Believe me, they're still doing plenty of things that you can't play—witness the tapped intro to "Atlas Novus." But nothing ever feels like "now I'm going to shred a million notes." Rather, the profusion of notes feels like a natural part of the song and every player has his heart right in the melody. Don't pass this one up just because it doesn't have words.

34. Watain - The Wild Hunt

Here's one that has been hotly debated by the black metal community, I think needlessly. I've never been a huge Watain fan, but nobody can deny that they've made some harsh-edged Satanic music that stays true to the essence of black metal. I think that this time around Erik Danielsson and company are taking more influence from Bathory and the pagan metal scene and less from Emperor or Marduk. If  you want to denigrate them for that or say that somehow they've "lost the spark," Watain doesn't give a shit. Nor should they. Songs like "Black Flames March" and "Sleepless Evil" sit just fine alongside "The Wild Hunt" and "They Rode On." And as far as this idea of black metal ballads being unTRVE, you can fuck right off. Watain's first ballad may be no "One Rode to Asa Bay," but this is how progress is made.

33. Satan - Life Sentence

This is not what I would expect a band named Satan to sound like. But I guess I don't get to make that judgement, because this particular Satan (there are seven bands named Satan listed on Metal Archives) wrote a New Wave of British Heavy Metal classic called Court In the Act back in 1983. And now they're back, thirty years later, with Life Sentence (they did also put out an album in 1987, but that's not the point). Life Sentence sounds like it came straight out of a time machine. It's difficult to believe that this album was put out by a group of guys probably in their late 50s. Judas Priest doesn't sound this fresh. Black Sabbath doesn't either. If you like melodic and speedy harmonized guitar lines, this is for you. If you like heavy fucking metal, enjoy your Life Sentence.

32. Lycus - Tempest

In a complete about face from the last album on the list, here's a piece of funereal doom. Hailing from California, this new band puts together low tempos and cavernous growls in a truly beautiful way. This is the best example I've heard of the style since Ahab released The Divinity of Oceans in 2009. It's just three songs, yet it's forty-two minutes long. The title track clocks in a twenty minutes, making it an absolute epic. This is appropriate for this style of music, as movements in and out of aggression and sorrow are the hallmarks of funeral doom. Additionally, Paolo Girardi created one of the most absolutely drop-dead gorgeous album covers of the year. When you consider that Tempest is a début, the album becomes even more amazing. Lycus has a dark but beautiful future.

31. Carpe Noctem - In Terra Profugus

Hailing from Iceland, this quintet studied long at the altar of Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega. The result is a twisting, demented début that burbles, splashes, and boils out of the ground like Eyjafjallajökull.In Terra Profugus is dense, and furthermore is practically unknown, having come out on the obscure Code666 Records in September to zero fanfare. The sound of  Tómas and Andri's dual guitar attack seems to echo off an empty sky while Helgi mixes up the skinwork in an impressive slurry of blasts, fills, and grooves. Whoever miked the cymbals should receive an award. I've grown sick of muddy drums in black metal and as Portal proved in February, adding clarity to something unsettling can often make it more unsettling. The album oozes seamlessly from song to song with a great hissing and buzzing; the entire project is a picture of desolation. I'm excited to see if Carpe Noctem will grow out of the shadows of their French influences. For now, though, In Terra Profugus is mandatory for anyone who lives on the experimental edge of black metal.

The Best of 2013: Introduction

So 2013 is almost over. Imagine that. I certainly haven't updated The Blackened Edge much more this year than I have any other year, despite my constant good intentions. I suppose there's only so much one man can do. That said, I haven't been idle in the world of metal in 2013. As a staff-writer for Last Rites, one of the premier metal websites in the world, I've written a great number of reviews and features. I've discovered music both great and terrible, and had first encounters with masterpieces recorded thirty years ago.

Before I started receiving music directly from metal labels, I had almost no idea of how big the metal scene truly was. You want an idea of scale? In my iTunes library, I have 335 heavy metal albums released between 1990 and 1999—from popular albums like Pantera's Cowboys From Hell to obscure releases like the Vlad Tepes/Belketre split March to the Black Holocaust.

From 2013, I have 481 heavy metal albums in my iTunes. So far, I've only listened to about 280 of those, however, I know that there are also other albums that I've heard streaming somewhere (usually Bandcamp or Spotify) that I don't even have accounted for. And that's not to even speak of the albums from 2012, 2011, or even the 1980s that I listened to for the first time this year. And in looking at other people's year-end lists, I could easily name 20 albums that are highly regarded that I haven't even heard of yet. And this is just in the realm of heavy metal.

So in the spirit of the end of the year, I've put together a Top 40 list to help put a bit of order to the music that I heard this year. Hopefully you will find it interesting and informative. I know that I always enjoy reading others' lists, and have found some of my favourite albums that way. I'm also going to list my Top 5 Disappointments, Top 5 EPs, Top 5 Reissues, and Top 5 Non-Metal Albums.

My Top 10 is actually already published on Last Rites, and you may have ended up here by following the link in that article. If so, I thank you for your interest. I won't be repeating that material here, but I will link it each day so you can be sure to check it out. And I highly encourage you to do so, as the albums on that list are some of the greatest that I have heard in any year, never mind 2013.