Monday, May 27, 2013

Top 20 of 2012, Part II

Well, May was pretty much a bust for The Blackened Edge, but I hope that you're also reading my reviews over at Last Rites. I've also restarted my writing blog, Salon Auteur, after a six month hiatus, and have begun writing fiction again after seven months away from it. In a sort of spring cleaning, I've given The Blackened Edge a facelift for the first time since I created it back in 2010. Here's the next dose of my Top 20 albums from 2012 for you, if you're wondering what you ought to be listening to as summer rolls around. Of these five, only one of them has an English album title, and that's a fairly obscure word at that. Enjoy them!

15. Dodecahedron - Dodecahedron

Pallbearer was music that almost anyone could appreciate. Dodecahedron is the opposite. Exploding out of the gates with the disonant chords of "Allfather," these Dutch masters manage to stuff an entire art gallery full of strangeness into fifty-two minutes of demented black metal. Dodecahedron undoubtably takes cues from other European black metal acts like Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord, but their final product is one of the most unique that I've heard yet. They combine electronic sound manipulation (for example, the "alien" vocals in "Vanitas") with brute force instrument abuse to create an electrifying blend of cerebral blackness. And unlike some black metal musicians this year (I'm looking at you, Dødsengel), the music actually pulls you in and smothers you, instead of ejecting you forceably and causing you to fight for it. Yes, it has layers and it's difficult to digest, but these are layers that you will disect with wide-eyed fascination, not cross-eyed frustration. One thing that I find fascinating about Dodecahedron is how little distortion they actually use on their guitars. When I play black metal, I maximize the gain on my amp and then stick a tube screamer in front of that sometimes. There's very little fuzziness to the guitars of M. Nienhuis and J. Bonis, but they create extreme sounds through their technique and choice of notes. The three-part suite "View From Hverfell" that closes the album is my favourite piece of the album. Just relax into the insanity and let it carry you away.

14. Dordeduh - Dar De Duh

I've often found myself regretting the 80 minute runtime of the CD. Having that much space often allows bands the freedom to put out 60 minute albums when they have only 30 minutes worth of decent material. Dordeduh, on the other hand, has made wonderful use of the length of the CD, producing 80 minutes of brilliant folk metal. Formed after a split with Negura Bunget, multi-instrumentalists Hupogrammos and Sol Faur recruited two other extremely talented musicians to round out their group. The complexity of this music astonishes me, as guitars, drums, and the normal sounds of heavy metal mesh seamlessly with dulcimers, mandolas, flutes, and a long list of other folk instruments. Chanting mixes with howling and hand drums with double bass. This isn't exactly accessible music, even for heavy metal. The first track is over sixteen minutes long. But if you have the patience, suddenly you will find yourself sucked into an incredible fantasy world. Dordeduh sounds like forests and streams and mountains. They sound alive. It doesn't matter that you won't understand the lyrics (they're all in Romanian). It doesn't matter that you won't be able to pronuonce the song titles. It doesn't matter that the band name (which translates as "Longing for Spirit") sounds dumb. Listening to Dar de Duh, you will be able to partake in that spirit which for which they long.

13. Borknagar - Urd

Borknagar is a completely different kind of folk metal. More rooted in the melodic death and black metal scenes of Sweden and Norway, the driving force on Urd is clearly legendary vocalist Vintersorg. Although it's not quite fair to say that Vintersorg is the be-all and end-all of the band, as three of the six musicains in Borknagar provide vocals, incliding ICS Vortex of Dimmu Borgir fame. Urd is Borknagar's ninth album, and easily the best that they've put out since the 90s. The album explodes out of the gates with "Epochalypse," setting a standard of melody combined with energy will be upheld throughout the rest of the album. The modern production keeps everything from bass to keyboards to guitars sounding clean, but never sounds overproduced. "The Earthling" is my personal favourite, combining spacy keyboards with acoustic guitars and soaring vocal lines in a midtempo song that is actually catchy. Nothing feels cheesy on Urd, not even the downtempo number "In A Deeper World" that closes the album. All in all, Borknagar offers up a delightfully Scandinavian sound that I can't get enough of.

12. Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage

French metallers Gojira have long been hard to pin down. I suppose they play death metal, but it isn't death metal that conforms to any of the other regional conventions. One word that always gets thrown around when discussing the band is "heavy," but most people aren't even sure how to qualify it beyond that. I'm not going to try to label the band's style, but it depends a lot on harmonic resonance and trance-like grooves. Vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier has a harsh yell, but is entirely understandable, and somehow manages to blend his shouts into the melodic content of the song. His brother Mario beats the skins as one of my favourite modern metal drummers. I just love the tone on L'Enfant Sauvage, from the twangy guitar sounds of the breakdown in "Explosia" to the signature pick scrapes to the abundance of natural harmonics throughout the album. Tapping is often used for melodic riffs, rather than solos. It all sounds very urban and polished, and yes, heavy. Yet it also sounds like real instruments played by real people. The occasional use of vocorder vocals among the regular vocals lends a futuristic feel to thing that was absent in their older work. The trance-inducing guitar patterns are more prominent on L'Enfant as well, although the New Age lyrical themes are expected. "Planned Obsolescene" and "The Gift of Guilt" are two stand-out tracks, but this is one of those albums that will pull you through from start to finish over and over.

11. Burzum - Umskiptar

Varg Vikernes, the most notorious man in black metal, returns for his third consecutive year on my list, but since he plans on building a house next year instead of recording music, this is likely the last we'll see of him for a while. Umskiptar has received near universal hatred, which should tell you something about how good it is. It's not strictly black metal—it's much more folky than anything we've heard from Burzum so far. The entire album is recorded in Old Norse, and all the lyrics are taken from The Poetic Edda. As such, you will probably find Umskiptar more interesting if you have a more than passing interst in Nordic heritage. Some of the tracks, like "Jóln," are fairly uptempo with lots of tremolo guitars. Others, like "Alfadanz," are slow and built around fairly simple riffs, but all the riffs have that memorable quality to them that I've always noted in Burzum's music. As always, Varg works alone, and some may say that this album is simply a product of the self-indulgence of a disturbed mind. I say turn down the lights, pour yourself some mead, and enjoy it as the bardic performance that it is. It might even inspire you to learn a little Norse.

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