As mentioned in yesterday's post, this year's album ranking is based on the three-point numerical system of the constructed language Toki Pona. Part #1 set out the mute or many, but now we turn to those in second place (the tu) and my unequivocal favourite album of the year (the wan). ...
KILLING JOKE PYLON
A band that has been around 36 years has no business sounding this furious. While Killing Joke’s basic song template has arguably changed little from their early days, they have undergone a gradual metamorphosis, becoming heavier and harder as the years go by – especially since 2003’s eponymous album. Pylon continues this trend of intensification, with some tracks arguably their most punishing yet. All of KJ’s trademarks are here – post-punk-meets-metal-meets-industrial rhythms, Geordie’s vicious, heavy but curiously elegant riffs, Jaz singing like a pile of burning tyres about conspiracies, geopolitical horrors, psychological warfare and the apocalypse – but just a little further, a little faster, a little more febrile than the last time. Yet for all that KJ excel at snarling vitriol and justifiable paranoia, they are at heart an accomplished, if idiosyncratic and aggressive pop band – most explicitly, on tracks like ‘Big Buzz’ and ‘Euphoria’. Fierce, timely and appropriate, Pylon is the perfect soundtrack to our age. And that should worry us all.
Despite all the metalhead praise heaped upon them, I’ve
never really connected with much-acclaimed Italian riff-lords Ufomammut. Yet
for some reason Ecate really got its
hooks deep into me. There’s just something so primordial and monumental about
their riffs here, almost as if they’re tapping into the pure, unfiltered,
Platonic form of the riff itself. It’s massive, powerful, feral and yet, for
all its bluster and violence, curiously Zen.
While collaborations with the likes of Asva, Wolves in the
Throne Room and Sunn o))) have associated her with the heaviest of guitar
bands, Jessika Kenney’s solo work and collaborations with Eyvind Kang are much
less visceral, but no less weighty. A devoted student of Indonesian and Persian
music, Kenney is also blessed with one of the most pure, expressive and
unashamedly beautiful voices on the planet. Atria
is essentially minimalist gamelan – still, spare, breeze-through-reeds slow and
spellbinding, driven by meticulous, chiming percussion. While strongly melodic,
its primary appeal is textural, lying in the sumptuous, sustained resonances of
struck metal, the honeyed tones of Kenney’s poised, elegant vocals, and the
mesmerising way in which the two interact – at times, so fluid as to be
almost indistinguishable from one another.
Loosely translated from the Spanish, this record is titled
‘Cut Everything’. It neatly sums up the content – angry, violent, lashing out
at an increasingly ridiculous world. Their previous album, 2009’s Carboniferous, saw Zu take their
spidery, complex, polyrhythmic bass/sax/drums prog and turbo-boost the
bludgeon, producing something stunningly heavy but also inviting, even
infectiously danceable. By contrast, Cortar
Todo and last year’s Goodnight
Civilisation EP take the sheer force and momentum of Carboniferous and turn it into a weapon.
Lead track ‘The Unseen War’ comes stomping in, all blunt
trauma and sudden flurries of body blows. The wild, tumultuous ‘Rudra Dances
Over Burning Rome’ evokes the firestorm of its title in (new to Zu, ex of The
Locust) drummer Gabe Serbian’s whirlwind of debris and the charred howls of
Luca Mai’s baritone sax. The title track itself gets locked into an
extraordinary bit of micro-focused repetition, all tapped hi-hats and
palm-muted chug, punctuated by malicious stabs, Massimo Pupillo’s bass rattling
teeth as well as guts through judicious use of a sadistic, piercing octave
pedal. Only ‘Serpens Cauda’ and the closing ‘Pantokrator’, twin slithers of
immersive beatless dread akin to Zu’s recent work with Eugene Robinson, offer
any respite from the pummel.
Zu’s music is still wildly inventive and damnably clever,
but – unbelievably – this is its heaviest, most punishing manifestation yet. If
it continues accumulating mass at this rate it’ll be a neutron star by 2030.
While the prospect of a new album, 18 years after the last,
was absurdly exciting, even the most optimistic of Faith No More devotees must
have approached it with a certain amount of anxiety. Reunion albums don’t
exactly have an illustrious history. What if they’d lost it? What if they could
no longer recreate that elusive magic?
The opening moments of Sol
Invictus might therefore appear slightly anticlimactic. Rather than
announcing their return with a bold statement of intent, the title track slinks
and saunters in, all widescreen shimmer, intimate crooning and spare piano.
It’s second track ‘Superhero’ that brings the metallic fire and spittle-flecked
bluster you may have expected. Yet this disarming opening gambit sets the
overall tone. While some tracks are as punishing and caustic as any FNM fan
would wish, Sol Invictus is also
characterised by a more restrained, cinematic character, which conveys greater
emotional depth than the band’s younger, more cynical selves would ever have
been able to muster. A spare, foreboding atmosphere, dotted through with
acoustic guitars and pianos, gives the album an air of seasoned elegance
– which only makes the furious bits more intense by comparison. The plentiful
peaks are as good as anything they’ve ever done: the relentless, claustrophobic
‘Separation Anxiety’, driven by a vicious, instant-classic Gould bassline;
‘Cone of Shame’s transition from ominous swamp-blues to feral noise rock; ‘Rise
of the Fall’s infectious patchwork genre-mash; sweet, sepia-toned closer ‘From
the Dead’. Best of all is ‘Matador’, the massive climax, which is jaw-dropping
in its scale and impact – ‘Just a Man’s scope and choral ascension meets
‘King for a Day’s multi-part structure and ‘Pristina’s emotional bruises, with
several new twists along the way.
Stripped down to a focused, concise ten tracks, Sol Invictus makes for a beautifully
balanced, varied and consistently impressive collection that far exceeds
expectations. It’s a record made by a band not softened by time, but honed by
experience. What it’s not is typical Faith No More – which, of course, makes it
typically Faith No More.
I recently became aware of the minimalist constructed language Toki Pona, which consists of just 120 words. Now, while this is perhaps inadequate for the purposes of the self-consciously verbose – indeed, positively sesquipedalian – music writer, it does present an elegant solution for how to approach the tedious business of ranking one's obligatory end-of-year list. Y'see, Toki Pona's numbering system comprises just three terms: wan (one), tu (two) and mute (many). This almost perfectly reflects my own in-head ranking system. There's usually one clear winner, several second-tier favourites, and a whole bunch of things that were also brilliant but cannot be arranged into any kind of order.
Here are the many, the mute. All fantastic records. In no particular order. Tomorrow, the wan & tu. ...
OPEN THE MIND TO DISCOMFORT
Bleak and full of despair, Will Haven’s latest adds a
haunted, sorrowful air to their relentless bludgeon. The riffs here are
absolutely monstrous, but weirdly ill-defined, fuzzy around the edges, like
cirrus clouds made of cast iron.
Utterly dazzling Assyrian/Armenian death metal, bringing
together Mesoptomian melodic influences and razorwire riffs. It’s a perfect
synthesis, without a hint of gimmickry. Astoundingly adept, savage and
innovative. One of the best metal albums of the year.
SHIP OF THESEUS
One-man DIY doom/black metal project, rendered utterly
nauseating by the use of microtonal scales. Sounds like a recording of several
bands slowly sinking into a swamp, being played back on a broken turntable.
Uniquely horrible, in a brilliant sort of way.
One of the more indefinable and unsettling releases of the
year – haunted location recordings, woozy beats, layers of fuzz and grime,
alien skronk, clattering improv, folky riffs and caustic guitar noise. It’s
like a radio half-immersed in honey in an Egyptian cafe, picking up two
stations at once. I’ve no idea who these people are or what they’re trying to achieve,
but I like it. A lot.
Bringing together Kavus Torabi’s ambitious prog ensemble’s
two previous EPs (Dear Lord, No Deal
and Clairvoyant Fortnight) and adding
one new, drifting, nigh-ambient track, Home
of the Newly Departed is likely to be familiar to existing fans. However,
it does brazenly illustrate that, far from being stop-gap throwaways, this
band’s EPs have been among their strongest work. At least four of these seven
tracks – the urgent and ebullient ‘Pilot Her’, the good-natured rolling groove
and fractured climax of ‘In a Foreign Way’, the Magma-esque stomp of ‘Prime of
Our Decline’ and the thoroughly unhinged 14-minute modular monstrosity ‘HMS
Washout’ – would surely dominate any semi-respectable Knifeworld top five.
MASTER MUSICIANS OF BUKKAKE
FURTHER WEST QUAD CULT
to be played simultaneously with 2013’s Far West, though I have never done so
and it sounds great as a standalone entity. Entrancing sounds that take John
Carpenter’s synth aesthetic, marry it to Maryanne Amacher’s head music and
bounce sounds around your skull, or build beautiful drones packed with drama
and romantic yearning. Another left turn from this inventive, ever-evolving and
curiously emotional band, sadly and incongruously saddled with one of the
worst, most crass and stupid names in the history of music.
Full disclosure: Jason is a friend and occasional collaborator, but that doesn’t mean I felt duty-bound to laud his latest album. On the contrary, Home World is undeniably appealing – a delightful collection of low-tech DIY electronica and virtuosic live percussion that’s just brimming with charm, verve and originality. Look out for a remix album in 2016.
After losing interest in LB after Hypermagic Mountain, Fantasy
Empire picked me up by the scruff and dumped me back in front of Brian
Gibson’s monstrous amp stack, soaking up the octave-jumping abuse. Nothing
particularly new from camp Bolt, but it’s always a colossal pleasure to hear
them at full force.
FOR THE CONSIDERATION
OF AMATEUR JOCKEYS
Probably one of my favourite Glasgow bands at the moment, another
project from the ever-prolific Hamish Black. This is the band’s second album, recorded
live in a day. Lean and nasty, it’s a short blast of really inventive,
punishing and immediate noise rock/hardcore, with a constantly surprising
rhythmic and melodic sensibility that will leg you up and steal your shoes.
AUTHOR & PUNISHER
MELK UND HONING
The mad scientist of industrial doom, Tristan Shone has a
unique approach to his craft – building an array of scratch-built
noise-making machines in what one can only assume is a subterranean workshop
filled with robotic bats. At its heart, Melk
en Honing (with harrowing artwork from Black Sun’s Russell MacEwan) is a
heavy, grimy work of cybernetic aggression, starkly impressive on its own bleak
terms. But what makes Author & Punisher special is something that
occasionally pushes through the mechanical filth like a weed through concrete –
an unexpectedly lavish and poignant melodic sensibility: ‘Shame’ coats a
bludgeoning trudge with incongruous beauty and layered harmonies, ‘Future Man’s
yearning lines soar desperately over a tar-pit trawl, and ‘Void, Null, Alive’
climaxes in a surprisingly elegant choral mantra.
Two sides of long-form ritualistic, psychedelic
trance/doom/drone from Finland. Low, slow, heavy, sensual and unashamedly
portentuous, this ebbs and flows between looming ambience and planet-crushing
riffs with deceptive ease.
Astonishingly, Guapo have now been at this heavy prog thing for 20 years.
They’ve mutated considerably in that time, shedding people, gaining others,
evolving from a two-piece to the current quartet – and they’ve also been
pretty consistently brilliant. Like their 2004 opus Five Suns, Obscure Knowledge
is a single, album-length composition divided into movements. However,
curiously, the three tracks’ running times and overall structure almost exactly
mirror their last album, History of the
Visitation. Whether this signifies coincidence or deeper conceptual
significance is moot, as the resultant album grooves, thunders, confounds and
mesmerises in all the right ways. Driven inexorably onwards by James Sedwards’
serrated basslines and the deft, subtle drumming of Dave Smith, it gallops
magnificently from big-riff bombast through cosmic mind-drift and lithe,
nigh-funky strut to a climactic wall of noise-rock.
A third outing from this Italian bass-and-drums duo. While
2013’s Opera was an impressively
complex and thoroughly pulverising experience, as dense and heavy as it was
disorienting, Motomonotono offers
some measure of refinement. It’s still ridiculously energetic and powerful, but
the emphasis has shifted slightly from bludgeoning, sculpted chaos to precision
and repetition, with the pair locking into agile, trance-like offbeat rhythms.
Luca Cavina’s bass has a more spidery, multi-layered tone this time around,
with chorus and synth effects broadening his formerly brutish palette. Allied
with drummer Paolo Mongardi’s lethal pinpoint polyrhythms, the results are
remarkable and instantly appealing – complex but flowing, hypnotic, full of
groove. Fans of Ruins and Zu will lap this up like thirsty dogs in a paddling