Thursday, December 26, 2013

Avatarium - Avatarium (2013)
And here, ladies and gents, is my doom album of the year. When doom guitarist extraordinaire Leif Edling closed up shop on Candlemass last year, I was very disappointed, especially after the excellent "Psalms for the Dead" but much to my relief Edling formed a new project that put out something even better. "Avatarium" is a doom masterpiece that takes a strong influence from psychedelic rock and classic rock in general. Evident of this is vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith's epic, powerful performance that is, at times, very reminiscent of Dio. The riffs are amazing and are used brilliantly. The songs are very dynamic, memorable and flow extremely well. It's just an utterly epic, grandiose and beautiful album that is one of the most memorable doom releases in recent memory. I can't recommend this one enough.
Windhand - Soma (2013)
For those waiting for the next Electric Wizard album, this should do quite nicely to tide you over. This is an absolute monster of an album. With bone crushing riffs, an extremely hazy atmosphere, and beautifully distant vocals, this is definitely one of the best doom albums of the year and one that takes the original Black Sabbath sound to far darker places than Iommi and co. could ever have imagined. Simply put, "Soma" is HEAVY. The gargantuan half-hour track "Boleskine" alone is one of the punishingly heavy things ever recorded. It's very repetitive, as a lot of doom is, but the repetitiveness creates this eerie, ritualistic atmosphere that is the real charm for me about this album. And this charm extends into acoustic territory on the gorgeous track "Evergreen" which reminds me a lot of Hexvessel. I think "Soma" is a bit of a step-up from the self-titled debut album since the vocals are a bit catchier but both are amazing slabs of doom that no doom fan should miss out on.

Blackfield - IV (2013)
For their fourth release, Steven Wilson decided to be a lot less present here and mostly leave things up to Aviv Geffen. There's a bit of a decline in quality compared to the last record which, unlike most fans, I loved although whether that's due to Wilson's absence I can't say. However, this is still a very good album with some really memorable tunes. These include the fantastic "Jupiter" with Wilson on vocals and "X-Ray" featuring Vincent Cavanaugh of Anathema. Both are easily some of the best the band have ever done. It's not nearly on the level as Blackfield I but IV is still a very worthwhile album that fans of the band and Steven Wilson in general shouldn't miss out on.

Chvrches - The Bones of What We Believe (2013)
Quite simply, this is the best pop record of 2013. Brilliantly mixing dreampop with 80's style synthpop, this record is equal parts beautiful and catchy. Lauren Mayberry's vocals are simply to die for and are really the centerpiece of the album. There's really not much else to say other than this is an incredibly fun and joyful album. And there's variety too in case you were thinking this was a one-dimensional, generic pop album (i.e. contrast the insanely catchy "The Mother We Share" with the reflective, experimental "You Caught the Light"). Indeed, it's quite clear that this is far from the generic pop we hear on the radio. It's something ambitious, bold and downright charming. Do yourself a huge favor and check this out if you haven't already.
Russian Circles - Memorial (2013)
In contrast to "Forever Becoming," the new one from Russian Circles is chock full of emotion and atmosphere, particularly of the dark variety. This is easily seen on lead single "Deficit" which almost immediately captivated me. Like the next track "1777" it's dark, heavy, and beautiful all at the same time. There are some gorgeous melodies and clean sections throughout (especially on "Burial") as well as plenty of dissonance to create a striking contrast. Besides emotionality, Russian Circles really know how to rock and deliver some good riffs though I must say they're a bit lacking in this department as compared with Pelican. But with the variety, intensity, and sheer beauty of this album that's not really a big deal. Finally, I must mention the sublime track "Memorial" featuring Chelsea Wolfe (I'll get to her new album soon). It's simply one of the best things they've done and is an utterly perfect closer to this album. Overall, I think this album stands alongside "Enter" as my favorite from the group. While they seemed to be getting a bit stale on "Empros," here they really pushed the musical boundaries and delivered a great record.
Pelican - Forever Becoming (2013)
Since founding member Laurent Schroeder-Lebecleft this well-known instrumental post-metal band, many including myself were nervous about how this record would turned out. The answer is: not really that well. I absolutely loved the band's previous output, especially "What We All Come to Need," but this one seems to lack the atmosphere and memorability that characterizes those works. It's by means a bad record though. In fact, "Immutable Dusk" is already one of my favorite Pelican songs. But besides that cut it just kinda falls flat and doesn't really connect on an emotional level (especially when you compare it with "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw"). That said, I think this is a grower so I'll have to give it more listens and hopefully it will indeed grow on me. But for now, it's a good record but one that doesn't really stand up to their previous ones.


Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks (2013)
As one of my most anticipated albums of the year, "Hesitation Marks" had a lot riding on it, especially after being impressed with the new How To Destroy Angels record, and I can gladly say it didn't disappoint. Overall it seems to continue in the same vein as the past few records while doing a bit of experimentation. New directions can be heard on songs such as the punkish "Everything" and the infectiously groovy, yet still quite dark "Satellite." The songs on "Hesitation Marks" don't have quite the same edginess as material from, say, "The Fragile" or "The Downward Spiral" but this reflects Trent Reznor's maturation as an artist and the point where he is now. It may be more poppy and accessible but it still unmistakably NIN and something I'm very happy to see added to the NIN discography. While it's not perfect, it's the best they've put out since "The Fragile." While other older bands/artists rehash material, NIN continue to innovate and not ride on their past glories.

Alter Bridge - Fortress (2013)
I'll readily admit that I have a huge soft spot for hard rock and boy does this band/album fill it. It's just a no frills, rocking album with excellent riffs and vocals that will keep you coming back for more. There's no shortage of memorable moments on this album such as the epic chorus of "Addicted to Pain" or the monumental riff in "Peace is Broken." There's so much potential for headbanging throughout "Fortress" that I doubt even the "truest" metalheads out there will be able to resist this album's charm. I'd put this one about on par with "Blackbird" as Alter Bridge's best to date as well as one of the best hard rock/alt. metal albums of all time.


Ulver - Messe I.X-VI.X (2013)
Recorded with the Tromso orchestra, "Messe I.X-VI.X" is the logical culmination of Ulver' extension into experimental electronica that they've pursued since they released the legendary "Nattens madrigal." It's also a testament to the band's ambition and showcases some of their best atmospherics to date. The dark majesty of tracks such as "Son of Man" and "Glamour Box (Ostinati)" demonstrate the interweaving of classical and electronic sounds into something perfect for a film score. Whereas Ulver's past endeavors gave one the sense of isolation, the breathtaking, epic nature of this album invites you to look outside yourself and ponder the world. The mammoth centerpiece of the album "As Syrians pour into Lebanon..." alone makes this one of Ulver's finest achievements. It's just an immense, incredibly epic piece of art and one of the darkest, most beautiful pieces of classical music I've ever heard. As for the vocals, they're used quite sparingly in contrast to Ulver's previous works but where they do appear they're all the more effective and emotional. I daresay that this is Ulver's most cohesive and most accomplished work to date and while it doesn't quite touch the masterpiece that is "Shadows of the Sun" it's still a phenomenal piece of work and makes me all the more happy that they gave up on their black metal roots.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Protest the Hero - Volition (2013)
Alright folks, my hiatus is over. Time to start reviewing again.

After the rather disappointing "Kezia" and the band's split from their previous label, the future didn't look all that bright for Protest the Hero. Fortunately, they weren't about to slow down and, with the help of their fans, managed to put out what might be their most accessible record to date. Whereas their magnum opus "Fortress" blends technicality and catchiness in relatively equal proportions, "Volition" is seemingly geared towards expanding the band's fan base (as well as pleasing the many generous fans who donated to their fundraising campaign). And yet there's still plenty of technicality helped in no small part by the phenomenal drumming of Chris Adler from Lamb of God who stepped in when the band's previous drummer left. But I think mainly the band was simply interested in having fun while recording "Volition" and this is evident throughout the entire album. It's a bombastic, theatrical affair whose melodrama is concentrated in the voice and lyrics of Rody Walker who gives the best performance of his career here. I will admit that his vocals are a bit excessive at times and that some songs should have more instrumental parts, but that doesn't change my opinion that he sounds great on this album. Songs such as "A Life Embossed" and "Skies" are a testament not only to Rody's phenomenal pipes, but also to the band's knack for stringing along complicated rhythms and melodies into a harmonious, memorable whole. "Volition" may not be on the level of "Fortress" but it undoubtedly a wonderful return to form that gets better with each listen.