#5 pg.lost - Key
idrinkwine and Natrlhi turned me onto this album during a period when post-rock seemed to be very down this year. A lot came together in the last few months of the year. I found myself really investing a lot in this album because it grabbed me so quickly.
It's easy to hear post-metal influence seeping into pg.lost's music. Russian Circles and The Evpatoria Report can be heard in this album! It’s a welcome change of pace for a band that previously relied heavily on Explosions in the Sky as influence, and didn't really push its boundaries. “Terrain” is a prime example of this - the band has revitalized its style of songwriting. While retaining the beautiful aspects of its sound, pg.lost adds the aforementioned heavy instrumentation with skill. Like much of Key, "Terrain" is very driven with a strong sense of focus (though slightly repetitive), with the percussion being very responsible for keeping a deliberate pace. This album ends stronger than it begins. By the time we get to “Weaver
,” the album has already left an impression, but this is the track that drives it home. It's very different from the rest of the record, as it lacks the overall focus of each of the other tunes. It lacks repetition. But it makes up for anything it lacks with fantastic atmosphere and very impressive songwriting. Piano and guitar paint a sense of urgency as the song goes through multiple transitions until it finally reaches a breathtaking climax and eventual release. “Weaver” is pg.lost's flagship tune to date, revealing the band's true potential as songwriters and musicians.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Sheaves," "I Am A Destroyer," "Gathering
," "Weaver" - the last four tracks are my favorite on the album, they flow together so well.
#4 Baroness - Yellow & Green
There seems to always be an album or two every year that divides fans. I think most would agree this is that album, or at least one of them, this year. Going back to the Cake Frosting Diarrhea Discussion thread, to quote Natrlhi, "now that the dust has settled from all the butthurt, false praise, hype, anti-hype, wailing & gnashing of teeth and so forth that took place when the album first dropped, I think I can say that it was a challenging album to love right out of the gates, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate it." That more or less sums up my thoughts on the album perfectly. To be even more of a deviant, I think the Green side is better than the Yellow side.
Like any other product or piece of art, music is never as good when it's forced. The greatest creations come from the heart - it's the key ingredient. And as long as it's sincere, usually the result is at least good and/or respectable. Listening to this album, I really feel Baroness are doing just that. They aren't trying to force out a product their heart's not in... they're doing what they feel like doing. I will take that any day over "going through the motions and putting out another metal album just to please fans." This album is sincere, there's a ton of feeling and emotion in it, and c'mon... it's fucking Baroness. It's practically impossible for them to write bad music, even if it's not the style you're looking for. But before we denounce this album from being metal or anything like that, let's be clear... this album is very rooted in metal, it's primary influence is metal, and parts of the album are metal. Especially on the Yellow side. Very distorted bass is heard frequently, and parts are sludgy. But if the whole album had to be classified, I would go with heavy alternative rock. But has any band ever done it like this? No... no they haven't. At least not that I've heard. This is the most unique album of the year, like it or not. This album takes rock, metal, folk, alternative, progressive, maybe even pop, and throws them all in a cup. Stirs. Tips the cup... feeds the fire.
The Yellow theme is the least memorable of any of Baroness' themes. Of course, "Take My bones Away," "March to the Sea," "Cocainium" and "Back Where I Belong" are excellent tunes, and some of the best tracks on the album. It quickly becomes evident that Baroness went into experimental mode with this album. They do things with their guitars they've never done before (strange noises), there are keyboards, there are - what sounds like - electronic effects, the drums are different than they were on the previous two albums, the vocals are clean and there aren't any of those infamous John Baizley shouts we all know and love so much. But as interesting as things were on the first half of this record, things went into perfect flow and motion on the Green side. The theme is back up to Baroness standards, and from there to "If I Forget Thee, Lowcountry," the emotion pours out through soothing ballads and gentle guitar tunes, and I find myself drifting in audio heaven. I was always a sucker for 80's ballads, and it doesn't bother me one bit that this whole side, with very few exceptions, is soft and mellow.
"MTNS. (The Crown & Anchor)" is one of the best songs on the album. "Psalms Alive" -> "Stretchmarker" is absolutely brilliant. "Stretchmarker" is the best <4:00 song of the year, and it's not even close. It's simple but absolutely gorgeous. There are so many musical ideas and textures on this album... yet it's still cohesive. There are some dud tracks, but overall Yellow & Green is - in my mind - well worth the patience, and more than the sum of its parts.
#3 Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Yes, the mighty return of Godspeed. I found out about this on October 1 around 10:00pm when I was on Sputnik browsing some reviews for F# A# Infinity, and someone posted a link to a tumbler page that had some pictures of - what appeared to be and allegedly was - a new album for sale at GY!BE's show in Boston. Sure enough, it was the real thing. Within the next 12 hours Constellation confirmed the release, the vinyl was ripped, it leaked, and I had it on itunes the next morning.
This album is definitely a return to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's traditional post-rock hallmark. It's better than Yanqui U.X.O.
, and on a tier just below F# A# Infinity
and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
. And it's only just below those two because the two standout tracks on this album are quantitatively less than on F# A# and Lift Your Skinny fists. "Mladic" and "We Drift Like Worried Fire" belong right up there in Godspeed's mighty rafters. Add a third twenty minute song of that caliber to this album and it's as good as their first two, no doubt.
To criticize first, the two drone tracks, "Their Helicopters' Sing" and "Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable," are a little lacking. It wouldn't be as much of an issue if they composed less of the album, but between the two of them they make up about fifteen minutes. Godspeed has always utilized drone material in-between their elaborate compositions, what some argue is "filler" material, which I have tended to argue against... but this time around it does sort of feel like "filler" material, even if it comes in places where transition pieces are necessary. It wouldn't have been difficult to throw some sound samples in the mix, an eccentric recording or two - some Murray Ostril or Arco AM/PM Mini-Market. I know these have meaning in the context of their surrounding arrangements, but surely ten years on leave has given the band time to find ample "awesome stuff" they could have used; it's one of the reasons they're so eclectic. Historically, it hasn't been hard for this band to make mundane things interesting. "Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable" though, is pretty damn mundane without being interesting.
"With his arms upstretched, with his arms upstretched, with his arms upstretched, can you get him, do you see him? Hang on, hang on, hang on..." I about lost it when I listened to this for the first time. It was immediately recognizable as the band that has done more for me in the last five years than any other, and this was the first time since being introduced to them that I was listening to something new. The strings on this album are very strong and prominent, "Mladic" (especially) is very angry and throbbed with distortion, and it's probably accurate to say this is the heaviest material Godspeed has ever recorded. The third track is the best on the album... it's rhythmically and structurally complex, littered with beautiful harmonies that shift easily and naturally between sections. I mentioned in the Summer Fades Away blurb that few post-rock bands can shift between sections and arrangements effortlessly - well, Godspeed is the master of it. One thing leads to another, perfectly and seamlessly. Volume levels are used to alter the prominence of individual instruments and melodic lines.
I had been waiting patiently (and impatiently) for years to hear new Godspeed material. This year I finally got it. 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
was the best surprise of 2012. And it was also awesome that there were no press releases or announcements of the album until it was available for purchase. And in the one press statement Efrim gave he basically criticized press statements.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Mladic," "We Drift Like Worried Fire
#2 Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction
This album didn't sink in with me for the longest time. There was so much praise revolving around it I continued to give it more chances, and I'd personally hyped it up a lot coming into 2012 after hearing Brett Campbell's stunning guest vocal work on Loss' 2011 debut, Despond
. When an album doesn't grab me there comes a point when I just discard it. That point comes at different times with different bands and different albums (I'll give some albums more chances if it's by a band with a strong discography, for example, of if it's by a band I've historically been a fan of). Thankfully for me, I kept giving this one more chances, and because of that at one point it just clicked with me and I allowed myself to be engulfed by it. I discovered how amazing this band really is, and what a monolith of an album they had created.
Given to the Grave is an unbelievably powerful song. Four lines make up the lyrics to an eleven minute song:
Carry me to my grave,
When at long last my journey has ended,
On the path that leads from here to oblivion,
Where no more sorrow can weigh me down.
Campbell's vocals are enough to bring you to your knees. High and mighty, coming off like an amalgamation of Ozzy Osbourne and Geddy Lee, the grief soaks into every fabric of your being. As one review said, "he sounds like a wise and weary old soul that's traveled many a desolate mile, and can now finally sleep in the eternal arms of the reaper." There are moments where he genuinely sounds like he's on the verge of weeping.
There are so many reviews out there of this album, most of which praise it. Desolate, depressing, crushing, stunning, visionary, haunting, etc. are all some adjectives I've seen thrown around a lot to describe it. But what is really noteworthy is how reading all the reviews is really fun because everyone seems to have a different take on it. That's perhaps the best part about the record - there's so much to be taken away from it. Way more than you could possibly take after first listen. This album has many, many different things to offer - way more than most albums. Chances are, if you're looking for something, it's in this album somewhere.
As for my take, there's a very strange un-doomy sound in this album that coincides with the grief and sorrow and funereal depression it embodies - an almost uplifting sound. This album is the soundtrack of embracing death with open arms. It's definitely a soundtrack to dying, but a lot of melodies seem more uplifting than depressing. It's more like it's a soundtrack to accepting your fate, or of a kind of relief experienced after realizing the fate that awaits you. The album artwork heavily uses purple and gold - the color purple is associated with mourning, and according to the bible, Christ was shrouded in a purple cloak on his way to be crucified. Which probably explains why a lot of classic doom bands like Sabbath and Saint Vitus used purple in their logos/cover art/etc. After Jesus accepted his fate he embodied it, and I think that's the tone this album sets.
Also, I saw it questioned somewhere whether or not the ship on the cover is supposed be Noah's Ark. Which would further extend the biblical metaphor even though there's no biblical lyrical content on the album. It would make sense though considering the overall theme of the album, and with "extinction" being in the title. There you go, I know some of you conduct interviews... so if you ever happen to find yourself sitting in front of Mr. Campbell with a recorder in hand, ask him if the ship on the cover has any metaphorical meaning to "extinction."
Of all the themes and lyrics in this album, and of all the things you can take from it, there's a passage that's at the heart of all the others:
In the shadows I wander
A solitary man, fearing not the hidden
In this harsh world of deception, I will stand up once more
And find within myself the strength to stumble again
I tremble when I read it and I tremble when I hear it. My eighth grade English teacher used to say "a hero is one who stands up when he can't." Every time I listen to this album I envision Brett Campbell walking towards his grave and falling over time and time again on his way. But he always manages to stand back up, even when he can't, and keep on walking towards it.
," "Given to the Grave"
#1 Ahab - The Giant
This album is better than The Divinity of Oceans
and The Call of the Wretched Sea
. In fact I like it much, much more than those albums. Ahab has to be, especially with this release, the most accessible funeral doom band out there. For a genre that's usually a hard pill to swallow for even the most open-minded listeners, funeral doom doesn't produce music this well done very often. I feel that this album, because it's so well done, is more accessible than maybe any other funeral doom album to date. If this is your introduction to the genre, fortunately or unfortunately for you - whichever way you look at it - the bar has been set incredibly high.
The Call of the Wretched Sea
was a Moby-Dick themed album with a lyrical fixation on dark, oppressive, oceanic themes. The Divinity of Oceans
was a soundtrack to Owen Chase's infamous book, "Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex," published in 1821, that in fact inspired Herman Melville to write the classic story, "Moby Dick." And their 2012 album, The Giant
, takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," which happens to be about a whaling ship called the Grampus and the various adventures and misadventures that befall the poor captain (including shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism) on his journey across the southern seas.
I used a similar analogy with Borgne's album, but Ahab’s music is as reminiscent of the ocean as its lyrics are. Sonically, The Giant
at times paints a picture of calm waters and fair seas, and other times paints a dark, horrifying picture of tempests and the terrible might of the vast, powerful sea. The dynamics switch from soft to heavy, calm to violent, in the blink of an eye, recalling the unpredictable savagery of the ocean. The album opener, “Further South,” is a fine example of this. It begins softly with delicate guitar notes, subdued drumming, and clean vocals for the first 4:30 before the song explodes into heavy, doomy riffs. Such dynamics are showcased throughout the entire record, which makes it superior to its predecessors. This album is dynamic in every way. It's hard to stress how critical this is - dynamics are the difference maker between good albums and great albums. The Giant
is really all over the place in terms of musical ideas and sounds. It's even accurate to say post-rock is an influence here. I never thought I'd say it... post-rock influenced funeral doom.
The vocals on this album are also incredibly dynamic and diverse, ranging from whispers to refined cleans to bellowing shouts to gutterals to screams. Sometimes he sounds like a ship captain verbally abusing his crew. The vocals change up on this album constantly (an aspect of it that I absolutely love), and they're very layered and compliment perfectly every tone this album projects throughout its great length. At times there is an echo present behind them. Even Herbrand Larsen makes a guest appearance on "Antarctica the Polymorphess" and "Fathoms Deep Below" to offer yet further vocal diversity.
Overall, the cleaner production, increased dynamics, influence, carefully crafted atmosphere, and the shear massiveness of this album sonically makes it album of the year. This is the most ambitious body of art that's come out of the metal department in a number of years. For those who aren't fans of Ahab's first two albums - give this one a chance. It's a different animal altogether.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Aeons Elapse
" (listen for the guitar solo at the 9:35 mark), "Deliverance" (the best part of the song starts around the 4:00 minute mark... the riff and then the solo), "Antarctica the Polymorphess" (the best song on the album, and possibly the best song of 2012), "The Giant
" (incredible vocals between 1:00 and 2:00)