#10 Ash Borer - Cold of Ages
This is classic Ash Borer in every way just with better production. Their being signed to one of the hottest metal labels out there right now has not caused them to take a turn for the worse or lack what made them great to begin with. And no, they're not becoming the next Wolves in the Throne Room.
The production is definitely better. Vocals are higher in the mix as well. Ash Borer excels at creating emotional landscapes that have immense atmosphere - perhaps influenced by doom and post-rock - and playing a few riffs per song that play off one another and bridge seamlessly from one to another. The atmosphere is chilling and dark, and a lot of the riffs are downright terrifying, especially with the choirgirl vocals. The non-metal ambient passages on "Removed Forms" with choirgirl vocals are extremely effective (the opening in particular, as well as the passage around the 7:45 mark) and cause the long songs to feel even more elaborate than they already are.
Jessica Way of Worm Ouroboros lends her beautiful voice to this album, and it increases the atmosphere of the second half of the record quite a bit. Ash Borer is not a band that really wants to accent vocals too much, but rather, use them for atmosphere and ambiance. Her vocal parts really do this well. If you enjoyed Faith Coloccia and Jessika Kenney on Celestial Lineage
and Jamie Myers on Malevolent Grain
, chances are you'll like the similar touch here as well. I don't even think she's singing any lyrics, she's just adding beauty to the songs.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Descended Lamentations
," "Convict All Flesh," "Removed Forms
#9 Leech - If We Get There One Day, Would You Please Open The Gates?
Leech is an almost ambient post-rock band from Switzerland that has a pretty sparse discography. Their last album was released in 2007, which I haven't heard, so I'm guessing they worked on this one for quite a while before putting it into form. This album, by a quick rough count, is about ninety minutes in length.
Leech uses piano and electronic touches like Mogwai and God Is An Astronaut, but also the classic post-rock formula perfected by Godspeed You! Black Emperor - loud-quiet dynamics and build-ups. The build-ups are less "epic" than some other bands have done and do, but they're effective nonetheless. This album is especially low-key for a post-rock album, it makes for easy, unfatigued listening. It's very soft, pleasant, soothing, and even therapeutic. In fact, for an album that lacks the advantage of containing a lot of harsh "in-your-face" moments, this one is downright emotional. There are a few heavier parts, like around 8:00 into "March Of The Megalomaniacs," and one passage in "Hand Full of Hearts, Heart Full of Stones," but this album never hit me upside the head or crushed me with heaviness or burdened me with weight. Quite the opposite, in fact. The ambiance and gentle catchiness lifts the weight off your shoulders... makes you feel a little freer and innocent (or perhaps less guilty). It's a very intimate album. Fans of post-rock should definitely devote a little time to this one. It's been under-acknowledged and under-appreciated in a year that's largely been overshadowed by the first post-rock release by a certain band in a decade.
By the time "Endymion" comes around, the album begins to take shape in the listener's mind as a journey of some sort - maybe the journey of life - in which "Endymion," with its brilliant build-up and eventual climax, represents man reaching his final resting place. If we happen to find ourselves waking up next to a certain wall with a gate, this album playing might actually convince God to allow us admittance to the other side, even if we don't deserve it.
#8 Les Discrets - Ariettes Oubliees...
This was the first album I flipped out over in 2012. It somewhat made up for what Les voyages de l'âme
lacked, and for that I was thankful because the Alcest album hit me hard and sent me into a negative frame of mind looking ahead into 2012. This album is the Écailles de Lune
of this year. Not quite as good, but still good - definitely the best shoegaze record since. I didn't expect it to fall out of my top 5.
This album is not a big departure from the debut, but it's very good nonetheless. It's only a little shorter, but it feels lighter and less dense. I really like Fursy's songwriting and style, so I don't really mind more songs in the same vein as those on the debut, and I think it's too early to criticize the band for lack of evolution, but regardless this album has received a very luke-warm reception. The material here is very well written and thought provoking. There is a gorgeous reprise in this album. Some albums utilize this so well it elevates the enjoyment and memorability of the album considerably, examples being The Beatles' Abbey Road
, Arcade Fire's The Suburbs
, and Baroness have nearly perfected it (especially with Blue Record
), and with the intro to the album, "Linceul d'Hiver,"and "Les Regrets," Les Discrets write a tune that's definitely worth remembering and definitely worth repeating, and the second time around it leads into an explosive climax. The atmosphere of this record ranges from bright and hopeful to bleak and disconcerting, but overall Les Discrets focus on making warm, enveloping music that concentrates on creating beauty more than anything else. The album ends very strongly - the last four songs are all gorgeous. And the last song is an acoustic version "L'Echappee," which was on one of their splits some time ago. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Le Mouvement Perpétuel
," "Ariettes oubliées I : Je devine à travers un murmure...
," "Les Regrets
#7 OM - Adviatic Songs
more or less picks up where God is Good
left off. This is truly inspirational music. OM is another one of the Giant Squid's or Bloodiest's or SORNE's of the world... the music is just so different it's hard to put into words. Those familiar with OM know their music is classified as "Middle Eastern psychedelic doom metal," or something like that. It's similar in structure to "Tibetan and Byzantine chant," as Wikipedia points out (I'm not familiar with those genres of music so I can't confirm, but it sounds correct enough). "Om" is the Hindi symbol known for the natural vibration of the universe. OM is a very religious inspired band. They've written music that touches on religious and spiritual themes from Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Judaism, and in the past they've explored the similarities between these religions. And here we have a picture of John the Baptist himself on the cover of the album - an important figure in many different faiths, especially Christianity - so it seems OM is still using interwoven themes, and on this record they seem to be predominantly Christian and Islamic. The lyrics... I'm going to try to dissect some of them (and the song titles), but they're so oblique they're borderline incomprehensible, kind of like Saturnalia Temple's lyrics except with religious connotations instead of occultist. My guess is as good as yours though, so…
"Addis" is in Hindi, and not even in Sanskrit, but in the Pinyin equivalent of Sanskrit (I don't know what the name is for it in Hindi), so we'll skip over this track. I'll just say it opens with clean female chanting and we start to hear Indian tabla drums.
"State of Non-Return" seems to start at the beginning with Adam & Eve's expulsion from Eden which represents the start of man’s journey outside utopia and his induction into knowledge:
Light trickles through the adjunct worlds, the soul galleon prevails
Liberates in wisdom, to complete state of negation
The five roads subsumed by grace emancipates from dream
"Gethsemane" is the name of the garden in Jerusalem which is said in the gospels to be where Jesus and all his disciples (except Judas) spent their final hours before the Crucifixion. It was here where Jesus sweated drops of blood, and came to terms with his fate in conversation with God:
Nocodemus awaits in vigil weeping
The Arahat rising and the healing ghost descends
Lamentations cease enter rarefied light prevails
Nicodemus being the pharisee that showed favor to Jesus. I'm unsure of the total lyrical relevance to the song title, but Lamentations cease enter rarefied light prevails
seems to represent the lifting of anguish off the shoulders of Jesus by God. Jesus did after all pray to God to spare him of the suffering.
"Sinai" is of course where Moses was given the ten commandments. The lyrics from "Echoes," on Paramaecium's last album, read: As I climb the long pathway of repentance, towards the peak of Sinai in the still dark hours of the morn, I yearn for the daylight which will tame my hesitations.
This more or less summarizes what comes to my mind when I think of Sinai. The mountain represents the end of trepidation, and the enlightenment to come.
Walk Melchizidek shrine descender
At Lebanon - priest ascending
And back toward Lebanon priest ascending
Melchizidek being the king during the Abraham narrative in the Book of Genesis. He must have climbed Sinai.
I don't have a clue what the lyrics in "Haqq-al-yaqin" mean, but I do know when you throw the song title into Google Translate it comes out as "the reality of certainty," which is the third degree of the classical Yaqeen Sufi doctrine. It's a three level hierarchy of human identity, like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but identity: scholars, gnostics, and lovers. With the most latter being the most important. The Yaqeen (تيقب) phase of Suffism (صفي), and yes I actually typed those in on an Arabic keyboard using my mad Arabic skills, is an ascetic sect of Islam in which one can, as the head of the Shadhiliyah brotherhood basically said, "purify himself from inner filth by excluding his inner being from everyone but God and travel into the presence of the divine." In this phase - the last phase - the liberation cycle is finished. And the reality of certainty is where experience becomes the object of certainty. Knowledge is transferred into experience and vice versa, and it becomes revelatory to the one experiencing it.
As for the sound, I mentioned it's inspirational. That's kind of a disservice. It's hypnotic (in a different way than Black Math Horseman and Giant Squid and bands like that), embellishing, blissful, and transcendental. The use of cellos, flutes and tamburas have become integral parts of OM's sound. There are mantra-like incantations. The bass tone is unlike any other I've ever heard. There are moments on every great album that stand out... moments of not just greatness, but distinguished greatness. The cello/violin outro in "State of Non-Return" is that moment on this album, and one of 2012's finest moments. I can't recommend this album enough, just damn. Listen to it. This band truly brings spirituality to music, and if you let it his album will do absolutely incredible things for you.
HIGHLIGHT: "State of Non-Return
," "Gethsemane," "Sinai"
#6 Borgne - Royaume des Ombres
Aaaaaaaw yeah, this is Borgne's best album to date, no doubt about it. This is *[SPOILER]* my favorite black metal record of 2012. I was shocked by how very, very good this album was. Borgne specializes in industrial black metal. Unlike many bands that incorporate electronic effects into black metal, which usually effectively creates ambient black metal that lacks aggressiveness and "big" sound, Borgne writes huge compositions and gorgeous soundscapes that are unbelievably atmospheric and broad in scope. CS Lewis said that if we zoom into a painting, we will see dots of color and can discover things about those dots, their patterns and structure according to the limited view we hold. Borgne draws huge elaborate pictures, but it's better to not zoom in on it - just sit back and admire it.
At times in some of these songs I picture a boat caught in a tempest. There's a wall of sound that sounds like its rocking up and down, back and forth, on large violent waves. At times it's actually soothing and solemn, other times it's completely misanthropic and lacks any notion of hope or salvation. The last three or four minutes of "All These Screams Through Me
," is a good example, and it's also the best track on the album.
You want to leave but you can’t
You have no place to be
Even in your body you’re not well
Even in your head you’re not well
The night is looking at you, and following you
Others want to avoid you
You want to be a debt for someone
But you never will be
“Only The Dead Can Be Heard,” and the album closer “The Last Thing You Will See,” explode out of the speakers with a furious assault of quasi-traditional black metal. Fans of Leviathan, Xasthur, or even Burzum should dig these tracks. A lot of this album is reminiscent of Burzum, just with heavier guitars. Most of the album is midpaced and it's very lengthy. Overall, this album has the best atmosphere of any black metal album I've heard this year. And it's also the most emotional.
HIGHLIGHTS: "In the Realm of the Living Dead
," "All These Screams Through Me