One of a series of articles that gets down and dirty, where Metal Observer writers’ favorite music of 2014 is uncovered. Here, Shawn lists his favorite albums of the past year.
Occult rituals and ghostly incantations.
Urfaust is a strange and multifaceted beast. Their shadowy and ineffable journey began somewhere between 2003 and 2004 as a dark ambient project, then evolved through several incarnations of bizarre black and doom metal, by way of neoclassical atmospheres, and occult psychedelic rock. If one cohesive factor has defined the Dutch duo, it is their devotion to creating pitch black atmospheres with a strong medieval flavor. Their latest offering is released as an EP, despite being almost 44 minutes long, and by all accords Apparitions will keep the ritualistic candles burning.
As the mythical ouroboros consumes its tail, Urfaust return to the twilight corners where it all began. Three quarters of Apparitions lies far beyond the realms of metal, drifting towards gloomy ambience and ceremonial incantations. Loosely resembling a seven minute intro-track, “The End Of Genetic Circles” is a droning and ominous instrumental piece, setting the mood for the unholy sacrament which is about to take place. Far more interesting is the subsequent title track, which features synthesized strings in the place of guitars, the slow, determinant rhythms of sticksman VRDRBR, frontman IX’s characteristic chants, and eventually the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar. It is, in a word, weird, but it is the kind of macabre weirdness from which Urfaust have always carved their path. Less outright bombastic than the orchestral dabbling of Verräterischer, Nichtswürdiger Geist, this is a new direction that might be their darkest foray yet.
Coming from any other band, it would be patently ridiculous to call “The Healer” a conventional piece. Out of the four tracks of Apparitions, however, it is the only one that could conceivably have come from one of Urfaust’s previous offerings. His distinct lamentations and wails make IX sound as tormented and possessed as ever, and a main riff that drips of sorrow and despair sets the controls downwards into the heart of darkness. That despondent nadir comes in the form of “The River”, a ritualistic ambient work stretching across 23 haunting minutes. Multilayered chants and eerie synths paint a mournful and somewhat terrifying picture, as a natural extension of the already dungeon-steeped sounds of the band.
The amounts of pure ambiance, couple with the overwhelming length of “The River” makes it difficult to judge Apparitions out of context. For those who are unfamiliar with Urfaust, this would clearly be a daunting listening experience and a terrible place to start. As an EP meant to push the band’s atmospheric side as far as possible, however, Apparitions is a resounding success. The ghostly sounds and crushing melancholy throughout makes for some of Urfaust’s most sinister and moody work to date.
Restoring Force (and then some).
In the roughly 12 months since its release (and as predicted in my original review) Restoring Force has propelled Of Mice And Men to the top of the alternative metal crowd. I personally have found myself revisiting the record far more often that predicted and have never found myself dissatisfied. In that period I have also witnessed a crowd of (mostly male) hardcore, European, heavy metal fans throw down to the band at Hellfest in France and a crowd of (mostly female) adolescents cling to their every word at Soundwave in Melbourne. So yeah, it’s safe to call Restoring Force a bona fide success at this point.
As with 2011-then-2012’s The Flood, Restoring Force has undergone the deluxe edition, re-release treatment. The Full Circle edition sees four new tracks added to the album, consisting of three new songs and an acoustic version of “Feels Like Forever.” Unlike those tracks added onto The Flood, which immediately eclipsed and stood apart from the original record by being about ten-times as heavy and forceful, those added to Restoring Force seem well-suited to the original release and it would have been interesting to see them integrated into the running order rather than simply tacked onto the end of the record.
If there’s a unifying theme to be found among the new additions it’s an even further accentuation of the band’s nu- and melodic, post-hardcore elements. The three new tracks feel like a logical continuation of “Would You Still Be There” and the runaway hit “You’re Not Alone,” particularly “Something To Hide” and “Never Giving Up,” the later of which has a sort of Incubus (ugh) feel to it, but they are each successful in also being insanely catchy and instantly memorable. Only the new take on “Feels Like Forever” seems like a superfluous addition. While it’s a fine rendition, the band make no effort to rearrange or reinterpret the song within the acoustic setting, and it does seem like a bit of a cheap, cop-out when compared to the coherent and contained tracks of the Flood re-release.
The Full Circle tracks don’t add nearly as much to the record as their predecessors. However, neither do they take away from the experience, and Restoring Force is an album that has (surprisingly) only grown better with age. If you missed it the first time around or need a crash course in what’s hot (and worthwhile) on the popular metal scene at the moment then now’s as good a time as ever.
Don’t bother brushing your teeth.
Parents often tell their children that nightmares, no matter how real they may seem, are harmless. Those same parents who opt to blast Iron Scorn as bedtime music, of course, aren’t doing their kids any favors. Direct from the bowels of Japan comes forth the full-length debut from Legion of Andromeda, a two-man monstrosity of primitive and minimal death-doom metal with a heavy industrial bite.
Comprised of musicians M (guitars/programming) and R (vocals), Legion of Andromeda converged under fortuitous circumstances when their colleague wives, in a moment of common frustration towards their husbands’ beloved caustic playlists, fashioned a meet-and-greet to see if the pair would hit it off. They did, of course, and so naturally they formed a band to express their disturbing interests. They released a four-track demo in 2013—three songs can be found on Iron Scorn—and then shit got serious.
For their newest effort, Legion of Andromeda recorded and mixed at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago—an ideal choice given Albini’s history with the influential Big Black, a group which initially inspired LOA to adopt the ever-tricky means of the drum-machine—and then put on the finishing touches with John Golden at his Ventura, CA Golden Mastering studio (Baroness, Jesu, Melvins, Beastwars, Neurosis, to name but a handful). Suffice to say, this album, if it’s anything, is heavy.
Iron Scorn plays out like a sonically concussive nosedive into the pits of malice and depravity; heaving and growling and moving into terrible places where the sun is but a myth to be mocked and demeaned. For those who suffer from nyctophobia, the album presents an equally profound dilemma; this mélange of demonic vocals, a slow-rising caldera of down-tuned riffs, and those damned infernal drums conjure moments of sheer, unrelenting wickedness; its density in hammer-strikes only affirming it as one of the more barbaric listens to be had in this year or any other.
Whether it’s the opener “Transuranic Ejaculation,” or the closer “Fist of Hammurabi,” rest assured that unrest is a guarantee. An utterly distinct, draining, and cohesive discharge from these two Tokyo overlords.
Here are Nathan’s 30 reasons why 2014 was a good year for metal
Josh takes us through his highlights of 2014, featuring; Iced Earth, Architects, Mastodon and, uh… Taylor Swift.
The Albums Of The Month column returns with the best picks from February 2015.
…and one leftover from January.
Breaking down the best and worst of the Soundwave festival’s 2-day stopover in Melbourne.
You’ve waited with bated breath for 12 months (and a bit), but the moment of reckoning is finally here. Voted on by the one and only Brotherhood of ‘The Metal Observer,’ feast your eyes upon the top 20 albums of 2014!
The TMO team pick some choice cuts from this month’s offerings.
I mentioned that Japanese power metal could be bizarre and off-putting back in my Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Power Metal. But for all the bands I mentioned and described, there really wasn’t that much in the realm of bizarro. Pretty much all the bands had rather accessible music with little to no genre experimentation. I’m going to delve a bit deeper into that offshoot of JPM in this part.