Posted in Features on January 1st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Happy New Year to everyone around the world. It’s January 1, 2013, and to celebrate the New Year the best way I know how, I got right to work on tabulating the results of the 2012 Readers Poll. I’ve been tracking the results as they’ve come in over the course of December, and as you can see in the list below, it was a tight race for the top spot right up to the end.
Before we run down the finished list, I want to extend gratitude to each and every one of the 296 people who contributed their top 12 so this list could be put together. It’s an amazing response and I was super stoked that so many of you were able to take part. Thank you for that. Right from the first day the form went up, I knew this was going to be awesome, and it wound up exceeding my every expectation. It was a great sendoff to the year. Much appreciated.
Here are the results of the Top 20 of 2012 Readers Poll:
1. Om, Advaitic Songs – 108 votes
2. High on Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis – 106
3. Graveyard, Lights Out – 86
4. Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay – 65
5. Ufomammut, Oro – 63
5. Witchcraft, Legend – 63
6. Colour Haze, She Said – 56
6. Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65 – 56
7. Kadavar, Kadavar – 49
7. Pallbearer, Sorrow and Extinction – 49
8. Orange Goblin, A Eulogy for the Damned – 46
9. Baroness, Yellow and Green – 39
10. Conan, Monnos – 38
11. Swans, The Seer – 35
12. Astra, The Black Chord – 31
13. Greenleaf, Nest of Vipers – 31
13. The Sword, Apocryphon – 31
14. Royal Thunder, CVI – 26
14. Wo Fat, The Black Code – 26
15. Ancestors, In Dreams and Time – 25
16. Torche, Harmonicraft – 23
17. Corrosion of Conformity, Corrosion of Conformity – 22
18. Enslaved, Riitiir – 19
19. Goat, World Music – 18
19. Melvins Lite, Freak Puke – 18
19. Soundgarden, King Animal – 18
20. Amenra, Mass V – 17
20. Samothrace, Reverence to Stone – 17
Witch Mountain, Cauldron of the Wild Rush, Clockwork Angels Stoned Jesus, Seven Thunders Roar Troubled Horse, Step Inside
Converge, All We Love We Leave Behind – 15 Mighty High, Legalize Tre Bags – 15 My Sleeping Karma, Soma – 15
Pretty wild to have Om and High on Fire so close, and they were tied for a long, long time, but Om retained an early lead and managed to pull it out in the end. As you can see, there were a number of releases that tied with others for their position. Seemed only fair to me to include all of them, and I also threw in those with 16 and 15 votes as well, just because it was close. In total, there were an astounding 1,200+ albums entered into consideration.
Once again, thanks to everyone for making this Readers Poll happen and for taking the time to be a part of it. Already looking forward to some fantastic things to come in 2013, so please stay tuned and keep your lists handy.
Posted in Whathaveyou on December 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Apparently I missed a few pieces of news while I was spending eight and a half hours putting together my Top 20 yesterday, so in an effort to get caught up, here are the latest additions to Neurosis‘ shows in support of Honor Found in Decay– which, as fate would have it, featured prominently in the aforementioned list. I look forward to nerding out at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple,and if you were fortunate enough to catch them last time they were there, you should too.
The PR wire is wise in the ways of tour dates:
NEUROSIS Authenticates Additional 2013 Live Actions
Details On Vinyl Pressing Of Honor Found In Decay Released
NEUROSIS continues to confirm new live actions in support of the band’s tenth studio opus, Honor Found In Decay.
Following recent announcements on the outfit’s upcoming performances in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, NEUROSIS have just proclaimed additional 2013 on-stage manifestations, with new shows in Brooklyn and Philadelphia planned for January, as well as Denver and Austin in February. Support acts for these new concerts are all being confirmed now, in addition to even more live performances.
The band has also been confirmed for 2013’s installment of the massive Hellfest festival in Clisson, France. The immense gathering runs from June 21st through 23rd, and will see NEUROSIS sharing the stage with Kiss, ZZ Top, Down, Bad Religion, At The Gates, Kreator and hundreds more.
A release date and further details on the anticipated vinyl edition of Honor Found In Decay have also been disclosed this week. This deluxe 2xLP pressing of the album will be unleashed February 5th in North America, February 8th in Germany/Benelux/Finland and February 11th in the UK/World, via Relapse Records/Neurot Recordings, and will be packaged in a gorgeous Stoughton tip-on gatefold jacket and accompanied by a stunning 16-page LP-sized booklet. The audio was cut directly from the original studio master tapes and pressed on 180-gram vinyl, which will be available in five different colors: 2000 on black, 1000 on translucent smoke grey, 500 on translucent yellow, 500 on translucent orange, and 100 on clear, not available to the public.
Preorders can be placed via Neurot and Relapse now!
NEUROSIS Honor Found In Decay Live Actions: 12/29/2012 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA w/ Rwake, USX, Primate 12/30/2012 The Metro – Chicago, IL w/ Bloodiest, The Atlas Moth 1/04/2013 Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA w/ Savage Republic, Ides of Gemini 1/05/2013 Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA w/ Tragedy, Black Breath, Stoneburner 1/19/2013 Brooklyn Masonic Temple – Brooklyn, NY 1/20/2013 Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA 2/16/2013 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO 2/17/2013 Emo’s East – Austin, TX 6/21/2013 Hellfest – Clisson, France
Posted in Features on December 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Please note: This list is my personal picks, not the Readers Poll, which is ongoing — if you haven’t added your list yet, please do.
As ever, I’ve kept a Post-It note on my wall all year long, and as the weeks and months have ticked away, I’ve added names of bands to it in preparation for putting together my Top 20 of 2012. There was a glut of excellent material this year, and I know for a fact I didn’t hear everything, but from bold forays into new sonic territory to triumphant returns to startling debuts, 2012 simply astounded. Even as I type this, I’m getting emails about new, exciting releases. It’s enough to make you lose your breath.
Before we get down to it and start in with the numbers, the hyperbole, etc., I want to underscore the point that this list is mine. I made it. It’s not the Readers Poll results, which will be out early in January. It’s based on how I hear things, how much I listened to each of these records, the impressions they left on me — critical opinion enters into it, because whether or not I want to I can’t help but consider things on that level when I listen to a new album these days — but it’s just as much about what I put on when I wanted to hear a band kick ass as it is about which records carried the most critical significance or import within their respective genres.
Over the last couple years, I’ve come to think of the #20 spot as where I put my sentimental favorite. That was the case with Suplecs last year, and in 2012, the return of Mos Generator earns the spot. The band being led by guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed, Nomadsmarked a rehifting of Reed‘s priorities from Stone Axe, with whom he’d proffered ’70s worship for several years prior, and wound up as a collection of some of my favorite heavy rock songs of 2012 — tracks like “Cosmic Ark,” “Torches” and “Lonely One Kenobi” were as strong in their hooks as they were thorough in their lack of pretense. But the bottom line is I’m a nerd for Reed‘s songwriting, playing and production (more on that to come), and at this point it’s not really something I can even pretend to judge impartially. Still, the record’s friggin’ awesome and you should hear it as soon as you can.
Seems like it would make sense to say Golden Void would be higher on the list if I’d spent more time with it — written up just a month ago, it’s the most recent review here — but the fact is I’ve sat with Golden Void‘s self-titled debut a lot over the course of the last month-plus, and I’ve been digging the hell out of it. Really, the only reason it’s not further up is because I don’t feel like I have distance enough from it to judge how it holds up over a longer haul, but either way, the Isaiah Mitchell-led outfit’s blend of heavy psych, driving classic rock and retro style gave some hope for beefing up the US’ take on ’70s swagger — usually left to indie bands who, well, suck at it — and also showed Mitchell as a more than capable vocalist where those who knew him from his work in Earthless may only have experienced his instrumental side. A stellar debut, a wonderful surprise, and a band I can’t wait to hear more from in the years to come.
This was basically the soundtrack to my summer. From the catch-you-off-guard aggression in opener “I Spit on Your Grave” to the extended stoneralia of “Master of Nuggets” and the jammy “Southern Comfort and Northern Lights,” the follow-up to Wight‘s self-produced debut Wight Weedy Wight(review here) showed an astonishing amount of growth, and though it had the laid back, loose feel that distinguishes the best of current European heavy psych, Through the Woods into Deep Waterwas also coherent, cohesive and impeccably structured. I thought it was one of the year’s strongest albums when it was released, and its appeal has only endured — as much as I listened to it when it was warm over the summer, now in December I put it on wishing the temperature would change to match. The songs showed remarkable potential from the German three-piece and cast them in an entirely different light than did their first out. Really looking forward to where they might go from here, but in the meantime, I’m nowhere near done with Through the Woods into Deep Wateryet.
“Oh, Moon Queen! Flyin’ down the world on a moonbeam!” Somehow the first lines of the opening title-track to Lord Fowl‘s Moon Queen always seem to wind up stuck in my head. The Connecticut foursome made their debut on Small Stone with the loosely thematic full-length, and touched on a sense of unabashedly grandiose ’70s heavy rock in the process. That said, Moon Queenwasn’t shooting for retro in the slightest — rather, guitarist/vocalists Vechel Jaynes and Mike Pellegrino fronted the band’s classic sensibilities with a wholly modern edge, like something out of an alternate dimension where rock never started to suck. The classic metal guitar in “Streets of Evermore” and the swaying groove from bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman under the wandering leads of “Hollow Horn” made Moon Queenmore stylistically diverse than it might otherwise have been, but at its core, it was a collection of stellar heavy rock songs, unashamed of its hooks and unafraid to put its passions front and center. They packed a lot into a 47-minute runtime, but I’ve yet to dig into Moon Queen and regret having pressed play. Another band to watch out for.
It was impossible not to be swept up in the hype surrounding Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, but one listen to Sorrow and Extinctionand it was clear that its resounding praise was well earned. By blending thickened psychedelic tonality and emotionally resonant melodies, the Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece concocted the single most important American doom release of the year. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, and as they supported the album on tour, the swell of the crowds spoke to the right-idea-right-time moment they were able to capture in songs like the stunning “An Offering of Grief” and “The Legend.” There’s room for growth — I wouldn’t be surprised to find guitarist Brett Campbell‘s vocal range greatly developed next time out — but Pallbearer have already left a mark on doom, and if they can keep the momentum going into wherever they go from here, it won’t be long before they’re being cited as having a significant impact on the genre and influencing others in their wake.
I already singled out Kadavar‘s Kadavaras the 2012 Debut of the Year, so if you need any sense of the reverence I think the German trio earned, take whatever you will from that. There really isn’t much to add — though I could nerd out about Kadavar‘s ultra-effective retroisms all day if you’re up for it — but something I haven’t really touched on yet about the record: When I was out in Philly last weekend, the DJ cleverly mixed Kadavar into a set of early ’70s jams, and it was all but indistinguishable in sound from the actual classics. That in itself is an achievement, but Kadavar‘s level of craft also stands them out among their modern peers, and it was drummer Tiger‘s snare sound that I first recognized in “All Our Thoughts,” so right down to the most intricate details, Kadavar‘s Kadavarwas a gripping and enticing affair that proved there’s still ground to cover in proto-heavy worship.
The fuzz was great — don’t get me wrong, I loved the fuzz — but with Stubb‘s Stubb, it was even more about the songs themselves. Whether it was the interplay between guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Peter Holland (also of Trippy Wicked) on vocals for the chorus of “Scale the Mountain” or the thickened shuffle in “Soul Mover” punctuated by drummer Chris West‘s (also Trippy Wicked and Groan) ever-ready fills, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch, and though it’s an album I’ve basically been hearing since the beginning of the year, its appeal has endured throughout and I still find myself going back to it where many others have already been forgotten. With the acoustic “Crosses You Bear” and more laid-bare emotionality of “Crying River,” Stubb showed there was more them than excellence of tone and with the seven-minute finale “Galloping Horses,” they showed they were ready to jam with the best. Truly memorable songs — and also one of the live highlights of my year.
Orange Goblin‘s purpose seemed reborn on their seventh album and Candlelight Records debut, A Eulogy for the Damned. Culling the best elements from their last couple albums, 2007’s Healing Through Fire and 2004’s Thieving from the House of God, the long-running London troublemakers upped the production value and seemed bent from the start on taking hold of the day’s sympathy toward their brand of heavy. With tales of alcoholic regret, classic horrors and a bit of cosmic exploration for good measure, they marked their ascent to the top of the British scene and took well to the role of statesmen, headlining Desertfest and proceeding to smash audiences to pieces around the continent at fests and on tours. Look for them to do the same when they bring the show Stateside in 2013 with Clutch. Their plunder is well earned, and I still rarely go 48 hours without hearing the bridge of “The Fog” in my head. Can’t wait to see them again.
While I still miss Los Natas, my grief for their passing has been much eased over the last two years by frontman Sergio Chotsourian‘s doomier explorations in Ararat. The first album, 2009’sMusica de la Resistencia(review here), ran concurrent to Los Natas‘ swansong, Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but with II, the new three-piece came into their own, setting space rock synth against low-end sprawl, thick drumming and Chotsourian‘s penchant for experimenting with structure. Extended tracks “Caballos” and “La Ira del Dragon (Uno)” were positively encompassing, and showed Ararat not only as a distinct entity from Los Natas, but a turn stylistically for Chotsourian into elephantine plod, wide-open atmospherics and a likewise expansive creative sensibility. The acoustic “El Inmigrante” and piano-led “Atenas” offered sonic diversity while enriching the mood, and closer “Tres de Mayo” hinted at some of the melding of the various sides that might be in store in Ararat‘s future. If the jump from the first record to the second is any indicator, expect something expansive and huge to come.
Italian cosmic doom meganauts Ufomammut outdid themselves yet again with Oro, breaking up a single full-length into two separate releases, Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter. But the album — which I’ve decided to list as the single entity Oro rather than its two component parts basically to save myself some brain space — was more than just big in terms of its runtime. More importantly, Ufomammut were able to hold firm to their commitment to stylistic growth, drawing on their greatest triumph yet, 2010’s Eve (review here), the trio pushed themselves even further on their Neurot Recordings debut, resulting in an album worthy of the legacy of those releasing it. I don’t know if Oro will come to define Ufomammut as Eve already seems to have — dividing it as they did may have made it harder for listeners to grasp it as a single piece — but it shows that there’s simply no scaring the band out of themselves. Brilliantly tied together around a central progression that showed up in “Empireum” from Opus Primumand “Sublime” on Opus Alter, I have the feeling Ufomammut will probably have another album out before Oro‘s breadth has fully set in.
Behold the standard bearers of heavy. It wasn’t long after hearing UK trio Conan for the first time that I began using them as a touchstone to see how other bands stacked up, and to be honest, almost no one has. Led by the inimitable lumber provided by the tone of guitarist/vocalist Jon Davis (interview here), Conan stripped down their approach for Monnos, returning to Foel Studio in Wales to work with producer Chris Fielding — who’d also helmed their 2010 Horseback Battle HammerEP — and the resulting effort was both trim and humongous. Early tracks like “Hawk as Weapon,” “Battle in the Swamp” (an old demo given new life) and “Grim Tormentor” actually managed to be catchy as well as sonically looming, and the more extended closing duo of “Headless Hunter” and “Invincible Throne” showed that Conan could both use their tone to build forward momentum and plod their way into ultra-slow, ultra-grim despairing nothingness. Monnos affirmed Conan as one of the most pivotal acts in doom, and with new material and a home studio reportedly in the works, as well as further European touring on the docket for early 2013, their onslaught shows no signs of letting up. Right fucking on.
In some ways, it seems like the easiest thing in the world, but with My Sleeping Karma‘s fourth full-length, Soma, it really was just a question of a band taking their sound to a completely new level. The German heavy psych instrumentalists brought forth the sweetness of tone their guitars have harnessed over the course of their three prior offerings, but the progressive keyboard flourishes, the warmth in the bass, the tight pop of the drums — it all clicked on Somain a way that the other records hinted was possible and made the album the payoff to the four-piece’s long-established potential. Wrapped around the titular theme of a drink of the gods and with its tracks spaced out by varying ambient interludes, no moment on the album felt like it wasn’t serving the greater purpose of the whole, and the whole proved to be a worthy purpose indeed. Hands down my favorite instrumental release of the year and an effort that pushed My Sleeping Karma to the front of the pack in the crowded European heavy psych scene.
The damnedest thing happens every time I turn on Graveyard‘s third album, Lights Out, in that before I’m halfway through opener “An Industry of Murder,” I have to turn it up. The reigning kings of Swedish retro heavy wasted no time following up 2011’s stunning sophomore outing, Hisingen Blues(review here), and with the four-year gap between their self-titled debut and the second record, it was a surprise from the moment it was announced, but more than that, Lights Outshowed remarkable development in Graveyard‘s sound, offering elements of classic soul on songs like “Slow Motion Coundown” and “Hard Times Lovin'” to stand alongside the brash rock and roll of “Seven Seven” or the irresistible hook provided by “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms” or the single “Goliath.” A landmark vocal performance from guitarist Joakim Nilsson and newly surfaced political bent to the lyrics hinted that Graveyard were nowhere near done growing, but seriously, if they put out four or five more records in the vein of Lights Out, I doubt there’d be too many complaints. Already one can hear the influence they’ve had on European heavy rock, and Lights Outisn’t likely to slow that process in the slightest.
Three drum hits and then the lurching “Let Them Fall” — the leadoff track on the first Saint Vitus studio album since 1995 — is underway, and it’s exactly that lack of pomp, that lack of pretense, that makes Lillie: F-65so righteous. Admittedly, it’s a reunion album. They toured for a couple years playing old material, then finally decided to settle in and let guitarist Dave Chandler (interview here) start coming up with a batch of songs, but you can’t argue with the results. They nailed it. With Tony Reed‘s perfect production (discussed here), Vitus captured the classic tonality in Chandler‘s guitar and Mark Adams‘ bass and kept to their sans-bullshit ethic: A short, 33-minute album that leaves their audience wondering where the hell that assault of noise just came from. Scott “Wino” Weinrich‘s presence up front was unmistakable with Chandler‘s punkish, no-frills lyrics (as well as his own on “Blessed Night,” the first song they wrote for the album), and drummer Henry Vasquez not only filled the shoes of the late Armando Acosta but established his own persona behind the kit. I hope it’s not their last record, but if it is, Saint Vitus came into and left Lillie: F-65as doom legends, and their work remains timeless.
Talk about a band who shirked expectation. Guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga and I discussed that aspect of Ancestors a bit in an interview over the summer, but it’s worth underscoring. There was next to nothing in either of Ancestors‘ first two albums to hint at where they’d go with the third. Both Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind(review here) were rousing, riff-led efforts that headed toward a particular heavy sensibility, but it was with last year’s Invisible WhiteEP (review here) that the L.A. outfit began to show the progressive direction they were heading. And In Dreams and Timeis even a departure from that! It’s kind of a departure from reality as well, with the Moog/organ/synth mesh from Matt Barks and Jason Watkins (also vocals), dreamy basslines from Nick Long and hold-it-all-together drumming of Jamie Miller — since out of the band. Closer “First Light” was my pick for song of the year, and had the album been comprised of that track along, it’d probably still be on this list somewhere, but with the complement given to it by the piano sprawl of “On the Wind” and driving riffs and vocal interplay of “Correyvreckan” (if you haven’t heard Long‘s bass on the latter as well, you should), there was little left to question that this was the strongest Ancestors release of their career to date and hopefully the beginning of a new era in their sound. They’ve never been what people wanted them to be, but I for one like not knowing what to expect before it shows up, at least where these guys are concerned.
After what I saw as a lackluster production for 2010’s Snakes for the Divine, Oakland, CA, trio High on Fire aligned themselves with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) for De Vermis Mysteriis and completely renewed the vitality in their attack. Built on the insistence of “Bloody Knuckles,” furious fuckall of “Fertile Green,” unmitigated piracy of “Serums of Laio” and eerie crawl in “King of Days,” De Vermis Mysteriis was both aggressive in High on Fire‘s raid-your-brain-for-THC tradition and extreme in ways they’ve never been before. Groovers like the instrumental “Samsara” and earlier “Madness of an Architect” offered bombast where the thrash may have relented, while “Spiritual Rites” proved that guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike (also Sleep; interview here), bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensell had arrived at a new threshold of speed and intensity. Whatever personal issues may have been in play at the time, High on Fire delivered a blistering full-length that stands up to and in many ways surpasses any prior viciousness in their catalog, and their level of performance on their current tour makes it plain to see that the band is ready for ascendency to the heights of metal. They are conquerors to the last, and if De Vermis Mysteriisis what I get for wavering, then I’ll consider my lesson hammered home in every second of feedback, tom thud and grueling second of distortion topped with Pike‘s signature growl.
When I interviewed interviewed Steve Von Till about Honor Found in Decay, the Neurosis guitarist/vocalist called the band “a chaos process” in reference to their songwriting. I have no trouble believing that, because while Neurosis stand among the most influential heavy metal bands of their generation — having had as much of an effect on what’s come after them as, say, Meshuggah or Sleep, while also having little sonically in common with either of them — it’s also nearly impossible to pinpoint one aspect of their sound that defines them. The churning rhythms in the riffing of Von Till and his fellow frontman, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (interview here), Dave Edwardson‘s intensity on bass and periodic vocal, the assured percussive creativity of Jason Roeder and theexperimental edge brought to bear in Noah Landis‘ synth and sampling all prove to be essential elements of the whole. On Honor Found in Decay — and this isn’t to take away anything from any other particular member’s songwriting contributions — it would be Landis standing out with his greatest contributions yet, becoming as much a defining element in songs like “At the Well,” “Bleeding the Pigs” and “Casting of the Ages” as either Kelly or Von Till‘s guitars. Had I never seen the band before, I’d have a hard time believing Honor Found in Decay could possibly be representative of their live sound, but they are every bit as crushing, as oppressive and as emotionally visceral on stage — if not more so — as they are on the album, and while their legacy has long since been set among the most important heavy acts ever, period, as they climb closer to the 30-year mark (they’ll get there in 2015), Neurosis continue to refuse to bow to what’s expected of them or write material that doesn’t further their decades-long progression. They are worthy of every homage paid them, and more.
It’s hard for me to properly convey just how happy listening to Greenleaf‘s Nest of Vipersmakes me, and I’ve got several false starts already deleted to prove it. The Swedish supergroup of vocalist Oskar Cedermalm (Truckfighters), guitarists Tommi Holappa and Johan Rockner (both Dozer), bassist Bengt Bäcke (engineer for Dozer, Demon Cleaner, etc.) and drummer Olle Mårthans (Dozer) last released an album in 2007. That was Agents of Ahriman, which was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. No shit. Not year, decade. With a slightly revamped lineup and Dozer‘s maybe-final album, 2008’s Beyond Colossal, and the never-got-off-the-ground side-project Dahli between, Nest of Viperslanded this past winter and with the shared membership, Karl Daniel Lidén production and consistency of songwriting from Holappa (interview here), I immediately saw it as a sequel to the last Dozer, but really it goes well beyond that. Tracks like “Dreamcatcher,” “Case of Fidelity,” “The Timeline’s History” and soaring opener “Jack Staff” show that although they’d never really toured to that point and been through various lineups over the years, Greenleaf was nonetheless an entity unto its own. Cedermalm‘s vocals were a triumph, Mårthans‘ drumming unhinged and yet grounded, and guest appearances from organist Per Wiberg and vocalists Peder Bergstrand (Lowrider/I are Droid) and Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) only enriched the album for repeat listens, which I’m thrilled to say it gets to this very day. If I called it a worthy successor both to Dozer and to Agents of Ahriman, those words alone would probably fall short of conveying quite how much that means on a personal level, so let its placement stand as testimony instead. This is one I’ll be enjoying for years to come, and when I’m done writing this feature, this is the one I’m gonna put back on to listen through again. It has been, and no doubt will continue to be, a constant.
Go figure that the Om record two albums after the one called Pilgrimagewould feel so much like a journey. Further including multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Robert A. A. Lowe (also of experimental one-man outfit Lichens) alongside the established core duo of drummer Emil Amos (also of Grails) and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros (also of Sleep), as well as incorporating a range of guest appearances from the likes of Grayceon‘s Jackie Perez Gratz on cello and Worm Ouroboros‘ Lorraine Rath (who appeared on 2010’s God is Goodas well) on flute, Om fleshed out what was once a signature minimalism to the point of being a lush, constantly moving and markedly fluid entity. Cisneros, as the remaining founder and lead vocalist, served as a unifying presence in the material — his bass still was still very much as the center of “Gethsemane” or the more straightforward and distorted “State of Non-Return” — but those songs and “Addis,” “Sinai” and gloriously melodic closer “Haqq al-Yaqin” amounted to more than any single performance, and where prior Om outings had dug themselves deep into a kind of solitary contemplation, Advaitic Songslooked outward with a palpable sense of musical joy and a richness of experience that could only be called spiritual, however physically or emotionally arresting it might also prove. I’ve found it works best in the morning, as a way to transition from that state of early half-there into the waking world — which no doubt has more harshness in mind than the sweet acoustics and tabla at the end of “Haqq al-Yaqin” — so that some of that sweetness can remain and help me face whatever might come throughout the day. A morning ceremony and a bit of meditation to reorder the consciousness.
Didn’t it have to be Colour Haze? Didn’t it? Two discs of the finest heavy psychedelic rock the world has to offer — yes I mean that — plus all they went through to get it out, the drama of building and rebuilding a studio, recording and re-recording, pressing and repressing, what else could it have been but She Said? After two-plus years of waiting, I was just so glad when it actually existed. Late in 2008, the Munich trio released All, and that was my album of the year that year as well (kudos to anyone who has that issue of Metal Maniacs), but I feel like even if you strip all that away and take away all the drama and the band’s influence, their standing in the European scene, guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek (interview here) fostering next-gen talent on Elektrohasch and whatever else you want or need to remove, She Said still holds up. Just the songs themselves. The extra percussion layered in with Manfred Merwald‘s drums on “She Said,” the horns and Duna Jam-ambience on “Transformation,” the unpretentious boogie of “This” on disc one, or the rush of “Slowdown” on disc two and the culmination the whole album gets when the strings kick in on “Grace.” Those strings. God damn. Suddenly a 2CD release makes sense, when each is given its own progression, its own destination at which to arrive, and tired as I am I still tear up like clockwork when I put on “Grace” just to hear it while I type about it. Beautifully arranged, wonderfully executed, She Saidcouldn’t be anywhere but at the top spot on this list. The warmth in Koglek‘s guitar and Philipp Rasthofer‘s bass on “Breath” and the way their jams always seem to have someplace to go, I feel like I’m listening to a moment exquisitely captured. There isn’t a doubt in my mind Colour Haze are the most potent heavy rock power trio in the world, and that their chemistry has already and will continue to inspire others around them, but most importantly, She Saidmet the true album-of-the-year criteria in not seeming at all limited to the confines of 2012 — as though it had some kind of expiration date. Not so. Even though I’ve already been through them more times than I know or would care to share had I counted, I look forward to getting to know the songs on She Saidover the years to come, and as I have with Colour Haze‘s works in the past, seeing their appeal change over time the way the best of friends do. It couldn’t have been anything but Colour Haze. Whatever hype other albums or bands have, for me, it’s this, and that’s it.
If this list went to 25, the next five would be:
21. Snail, Terminus
22. Revelation, Inner Harbor
23. Wo Fat, The Black Code
24. Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
25. Caltrop, Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes
Honorable mention goes to: Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight (another one about whom I have a hard time being impartial), Mighty High, At Devil Dirt, Bell Witch, Samothrace, Enslaved, Viaje a 800, and Larman Clamor.
Also worth noting some conspicuous absences: Witchcraft, Swans, Baroness, Royal Thunder, The Sword, Torche. These albums garnered a strong response and have done well in the Readers Poll looking at the results so far, but please keep in mind, this is my list, I took a night to sleep on it, I stand by it and I’ve got my reasons for selecting what I did. You’ll find about 5,000 words of them above.
Thank you as always for reading. If you disagree with any picks, want to add your own take on any of the above, or anything else — really, whatever’s cool — please leave a comment below.
Whatever medium you enjoy music through, LPs, CDs, digital, tapes, reel-to-reel, Edison cylinders, the fact of the matter is that artwork — the visual representation of the album — makes a huge difference in the overall impression a record makes. There are bands who slave away for months negotiating fine details with artists and there are bands who snap a picture of themselves and throw it out front on their way to grab their next beer. Both methods have yielded classic results.
As 2012 winds down, I thought it might be fun to go back to the start of the year and take a look at some of the best album art that accompanied some killer albums. This isn’t the Best Albums list, just some of what I think is the Best Art. I’ll try my best to keep my reasons short as we go along alphabetically:
Alcest, Les Voyages de l’Âme
The sort of gloomy lushness that artist Fursy Teyssier brought to the cover for Alcest‘s Les Voyages de l’Âme was breathtaking from the first glance. Teyssier (also of Les Discrets; interview here) wonderfully captured the morose beauty in Alcest‘s music and painted a masterpiece that transcended “rock art” as much as the album itself transcended black metal or any other genre in which one might try to pigeonhole it.
The sentinel that has now graced the cover of the last couple Conan releases has mirrored the British act’s ascent in joining the ranks of great heavy metal mascots. Tony Roberts, who drew the piece on the cover of Monnos, has become an essential part of the band’s mythology, meeting their ultra-crushing tonality with visuals that seem to work in atmospheres no less oppressively brutal. If art was ever heavy, it was heavy here.
A pretty simple idea, but wonderfully executed, the front of Portland neo-traditionalists Doomsower‘s debut EP, 1974, came from an EPA photo documentary project that took place the same year. I picked it for this list not because it was so intricate or anything like that, but proof that sometimes something that seems basic can also be just right for the songs — the rails parallel, but joining, seeming to indicate Doomsower‘s journey undertaken.
Electric Moon, The Doomsday Machine
The question wasn’t so much would there be an Electric Moon cover on this list, but which one? The prolific German heavy psych jammers have a cache of treasure in the work of bassist Komet Lulu, and when it came time to choose from among the several recordings the band released in 2012, The Doomsday Machine stood out as a departure from the bright colors and classic psychedelia, being a painting by Lulu‘s father, Ulla Papel. Here’s to genetics.
Groan, The Divine Right of Kings
Having also handled Groan‘s split with Finnish trad doomers Vinum Sabbatum, W. Ralph Walters outdid himself with Groan‘s full-length follow-up, The Divine Right of Kings. With strong References to Hieronymus Bosch‘s vision of hell, Walters visualized the band’s move into classic metal and mixed it with manic get-stoned-and-stare kitchen-sinkery much as Groan continued to consort with brash heavy rock and doom. Walters‘ work on Blue Aside‘s The Moles of a Dying Race was no less distinct an achievement.
Larman Clamor, Frogs
Aside from thinking frogs are awesome in general, I was stoked to see how incredibly well Alexander von Wieding‘s art for his band Larman Clamor‘s 2012 offering fit the music. Otherworldly, darkly psychedelic and caked in haze, the dead stare of the frankenfrog on the front of Frogs perfectly matched von Wieding‘s swampy, bluesy style and looked even better on vinyl. Having also contributed to records by Lord Fowl, Wo Fat, Cortez and others this year, von Wieding has made himself one of the most essential heavy rock artists the world over.
Neurosis, Honor Found in Decay
Were it not for the discussion about the process of putting it together in the interview I did with Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till at the end of October, Josh Graham‘s cover for Honor Found in Decay — especially being so similar in idea to his work on Soundgarden‘s King Animal — probably wouldn’t have made this list, but knowing the level of construction that went into making the piece, from painting the jawbones to using artifact arrowheads from Slovakia, I couldn’t help but see it in a different light. Graham‘s ended his association with Neurosis, but if this is how he went out, they couldn’t have asked for more.
I had spent some serious time with Summoner‘s Phoenix by then, had been in talks with the band about releasing it on The Maple Forum, but it wasn’t until I held the LP in my hands at SHoD and really saw the Alyssa Maucere cover in-person that I realized what I was looking at. And once you see it, it’s not really subtle at all. Get it yet? There’s a cock and balls on the right side. I gotta give it to the Boston outfit and to Maucere for sneaking and yet not at all sneaking that one in there. Hey, if you don’t appreciate some phallic humor every now and again, you’re probably not going to start a website called The Obelisk.
Ufomammut, Oro: Opus Primum & Oro: Opus Alter
Is it cheating to include both covers from Ufomammut‘s Oro two-album series? Probably. Do I give a shit? Not in the slightest, because the Italian collective — who for visual purposes go by the name Malleus — tapped into new territory of psych art with the pieces for Oro: Opus Primum and Oro: Opus Alter, manifesting the idea of “psychedelic metal” in the actual style and inks used, while also contrasting dark and light and conveying the permanent nature of gold itself and the notions of hypnotic ritual that show up in their music. These covers were proof that Ufomammut are more than just the masters of their sound.
Another Tony Roberts creation, but in a completely different style from Conan‘s Monnos above, the bleak cover of UK nautical doomers Undersmile‘s 80-minute debut LP Narwhal seemed to embody everything the band had to offer on the album. It was dark, with hard drawn structural lines, but also sprawling, encompassing every panel of the digipak and running into the liner much as Undersmile‘s oceanic themes ran into every minute of the music, crushingly heavy or minimalist and ambient. Less about the titular creature within and more about the sea itself, it conveyed an utter hopelessness and the smallness of humanity when set against something so massive as the sea.
There were plenty more I could’ve included here — records from High on Fire, Om, Graveyard, Wight, Caltrop, Ancestors, Samothrace, Vulture and several others all are worthy of honorable mention, but for one reason or another, these were the standouts to me and I hope you agree that even in this go-ahead-and-download-it age of immediate convenience, the visual art remains pivotal to an album experience.
Someone you think got left out? If you’ve got any suggestions to add, agreements or disagreements, I’d love to get a discussion going in the comments, so please, have at it.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Some good news from the Neurosis camp and hopefully more to come. Though the band announced yesterday they’d parted ways with visual artist Josh Graham, they’ve just unveiled some new live dates via the PR wire for a lucky handful of people in L.A., Seattle and Atlanta. Dig it:
NEUROSIS: New Stateside Live Actions Declared
NEUROSIS has this week disclosed details on new pending live actions across the country in support of Honor Found In Decay.
Newly locked-down NEUROSIS performances are now set to take place late this year into the first week of 2013 in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Seattle, with tickets for all three shows set to go on sale this Friday, November 30th. Direct ticket links for these shows are posted below, and even more additional tour actions for the group will be announced in the days ahead.
Following their massive, recent release show for Honor Found In Decay in Oakland, this week the collective have traversed the Atlantic for two special UK performances, at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas hosted by Steve Albini’s band Shellac, followed by a show in London with support from Godflesh.
As critical acclaim of Honor Found In Decay continues to pour in, extensive and in-depth coverage from respected outlets including a feature on the band’s most detrimental influences at Spin, as well as a massive installment of The Out Door at Pitchfork, not to mention dozens of new reviews praising the album have posted. This follows the main cover feature from Decibel Magazine, the main cover feature of The Aquarian Weekly and outstanding new live footage from the Honor Found In Decay record release show.
UK Honor Found In Decay Performances:
11/30-12/02/2012 ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas – Camber Sands Holiday Camp, England 12/02/2012 HMV Forum – London, England w/ Godflesh
*NEW – Honor Found In Decay American Live Actions:
12/29/2012 The Masquerade – Atlanta, GA 1/04/2013 Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA 1/05/2013 Showbox at the Market – Seattle, WA
Driving past the homogenized “warmth” of the brick retail chains that have appeared since I was last down on the outskirts of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think of John Brenner from Revelation discussing the inner harbor in that interview that went up last week. These places with all the trappings of economic stimulus except any investment back into the community that hosts them the way feet host blisters. There for a painful while and then gone. Pop.
It was different once I actually got into Fell’s Point. Not that the neighborhood wasn’t gentrified from its working class harbor roots, but that at very least it was actual gentrification, independently owned businesses or at least smaller, regional chains and a most welcome onslaught of pubs, eateries, and other gastro-type decadences. Kooper’s Tavern, where The Patient Mrs. and I had lunch, had tables set up outside selling oysters and recycling the shells for use by — wait for it — other oysters. Seems nobody is immune to the economic ravages of our age. Even the oysters have to buy used.
Fitting that act of conservation would be prelude to a radical haul whose like — in what otherwise might be considered a regular ol’ record shop — I’ve not seen in some time. Sound Garden (no relation) was just down the street from the pub where we ate and several others, and it wasn’t my first time there by any stretch (seems impossible that it would’ve been over three years ago, but I guess that’s why old posts are dated), but I didn’t remember it being quite the trove it was this time around. Walking up the middle of the three aisles, I went past the metal and the midsection divide — I’d come back to the metal, no worries — something strange compelling me forward, and that’s when I saw it:
The Psychedelic section.
Oh yeah, that’s right. The monkey that lives in my head where my brain should be clicked on the dim bulb of his cavernous abode and for a moment I said a prayer to my pagan octopus god that I might win the $300 million Powerball and come back to Sound Garden to purchase every album in the Psychedelic section on principle alone. A mere celebration of the existence of such a thing. Portrait of the mouth, drooling.
What fun I had. Flipping through was like opening presents. I limited myself to two discs about which I knew absolutely nothing but what was written on the eloquent description labels — Truth‘s Truthfrom 1969 and Escombros‘ Escombros, from 1970. The former is a poppy, folksy thing, not bad but not quite as bizarre as I was hoping based on the cover, and Escombros is a heavier Chilean obscurity that opens with a cover of Hendrix‘s “Stone Free,” so I guessed I was pretty safe in grabbing it. Turns out I was right about that. The vocals sounded mixed too high on my office speakers when I listened, but I expect on a different system, it might not be an issue at all, and there were a couple gems there anyway. Wicked Lady‘s Psychotic Overkillwas a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.
I also picked up Goat‘s World Musicbased on the tarantula-sized hype surrounding. That hype is probably earned, and however problematic I might find European acts copping a feel on some Fela Kuti afrobeat fuzz, they’re hardly the first and they did it well enough. I wasn’t quite enchanted, but sometimes with albums like that I go into it determined not to like them and usually find I don’t. That wasn’t the case with Goat.
In the “I reviewed this and I’m annoyed at buying it” category, the newest ones from Golden Void (review here), Astra (review here)and Six Organs of Admittance (review here) were fodder enough for a grumble, even if Astra and was used. Six Organs was $15 new and the sleeve isn’t even a gatefold. Call me a privileged shit if you want — boo hoo you don’t get free stuff, etc. — but for the time and effort I put into even a shorter review, I don’t think a CD is too much to ask, especially when I know that I’m one of like three remaining motherfuckers who cares in the slightest. Apparently the music industry disagrees. Grumble grumble, man.
One might include the new Neurosis (review here) in that category as well — and the Grand Magus I didn’t even step to this time around — but the fact is on that one I was just being impatient and that a physical promo of Honor Found in Decaywould show up sooner or later (it did, today). However, my wanting to hear it right that minute met with such logic on the field of diplomacy and the compromise reached was that I’d buy the digipak edition, because it’s limited and the promo would likely be the jewel case anyway. I never got the digi version of 2007’s Given to the Rising and there’s a little bit of me that still regrets it. That same part is very much enjoying listening to “My Heart for Deliverance” as he types this.
There were odds and ends as well. With Kalas on my brain after The Johnny Arzgarth Haul resulted in another promo, Used Metal paid dividends in the first full-artwork copy I’ve ever owned — and in case you were wondering why I care so much about physical media, that’s how long I remember shit like that — and over in Used Rock, the first Grinderman happened to be situated next to a special edition of 2009’s Grinderman 2, the unmitigated sleaze of which I friggin’ loved at the time, as well as Grails‘ cinematic 2012 outing, Deep Politics (review here).
I wound up with a used copy of Dungen‘s 2002 third album, Stadsvandringar, getting the band confused with Black Mountain, I think because they both used to have the same PR. Thanks a lot, Girlie Action Media circa 2005. I felt a little pathetic when I discovered my error, but I checked out the Dungen and it wasn’t bad, covering some of the same sunny psych folk territory that Barr did on their 2012 sophomore installment, Atlantic Ocean Blues(track stream here), and giving me a new context for not onlyBarr, but a slew of other acts as well. Could’ve been much worse.
Cap it off with a used copy of Lewis Black‘s The Carnegie Hall Performancefrom 2006 — a stellar two-disc show recorded in the depths of American hopelessness post-Katrina but for the bit about air traffic control — and when I brought it all to the counter, the dude asked me, “Are you local?” I said I wasn’t and he said, “Well, I’m going to give you a discount anyway.” It was much appreciated, regardless of the geography involved, and by the time I left Sound Garden, I was more pleased with the outcome I carried in a red plastic bag than I’ve been coming from a single record store in a long time. Probably since I visited Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, over the summer, and that’s saying something.
My hope is that it’s not another three years before I get back there — appropriately enough, Lewis Black has a whole section early into his show about time moving faster as you age, and he’s absolutely right — but whenever it is, Sound Garden is definitely on the must-hit list for next time I’m in Baltimore. If you want to look them up, their website is here.
Posted in Features on October 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
Talking to Neurosis is always an educational experience. This time, in conversation with guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till, I learned that the processes by which the band makes records — specifically, the process that resulted in their latest album, Honor Found in Decay (review here) — isn’t as clean as one might think. Von Till calls it a “chaos process,” and that’s as apt a descriptor as I can come up with going by his recounting of how it all works. Where my impulse in listening to songs like “We all Rage in Gold” and “Bleeding the Pigs” is to hear either Von Till or fellow guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly (recent interview here) at the fore and assume that whoever’s taking the lead at the moment wrote that song or that part, that’s not necessarily the case. Von Till stresses the group, the collective, and in the end, the search for or the need to put a structural idea to it says more about the listener than the band, who apparently are compelled to no such thing.
Still, there are practical considerations. A Neurosis album doesn’t just happen to take shape out of some foggy ether — if it did, Honor Found in Decayprobably would’ve followed much sooner on the heels of 2007’s Given to the Rising. It’s a gritty, emotional process and gritty, emotional music, but it takes a tremendous amount of back and forth to put together, and with members spread as far out as Idaho, Oregon and California’s Bay Area, it’s not like they can all get together in a rehearsal space three times a week and collaborate. Small groups meet, ideas are emailed back and forth, but when it comes to actually being in the same room at the same time, Von Till puts it bluntly: “Couple times a year.”
In that context, Honor Found in Decayis all the more striking. Of course, the full band — Von Till, Kelly, bassist Dave Edwardson, drummer Jason Roeder and keyboardist/sampler Noah Landis – came together to finalize the album’s seven component tracks before entering the studio with Steve Albini at the helm as engineer for the fifth time. But even so, as much as some acts agonize and argue over parts and what should go where and how many times, Neurosis in their 27th year as a band make the most of their limited hours and days together, resulting in material that’s not only characteristic of what they do or what their style is, but advances their aesthetic further, smoothing out the transitions and contrasts between heavy riffing and sparse ambience, allowing room for melodies to flourish in deconstructed atmospheres and a pervasive sense of darkness.
Von Till discusses it as well, but in that particularly, Landis is more integral to Honor Found inDecaythan he’s ever been to a Neurosis album. Both Given to the Risingand its predecessor, 2004’s The Eye of Every Storm gave hints of the depths of Landis‘ contributions, but with the new record, his manipulations are every bit as essential as the guitars, bass or drums, and it’s important to understand that these things aren’t plotted in the sense of Kelly or Von Till stepping back and saying, “Alright, now we’re gonna do this with the sampler.” It’s what comes out of that chaos process, that collaboration with the whole band, it’s no different for Landis than it is for anyone else in Neurosis.
In the interview that follows, Von Till talks about putting the album together, from the songwriting to the concepts behind the Josh Graham cover art, the continued relationship with Albini, the contrast between the tension of pummeling churn and open musical spaces, the prospects for live shows in the coming months to support the record, his Harvestman and solo projects, the growth of the band’s label, Neurot Recordings, and much more.
The complete 4,400-word Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.
Posted in Reviews on September 21st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
The advent of a new Neurosis album is noteworthy even in concept. If you count 2003’s collaboration with Jarboe, there have been four in the last decade – which is a better average than some – and yet each new release seems to arrive with more anticipation behind it, the band members’ prolific side-projects and solo outings only feeding the fire that burns its way back to the root act. The 10th studio full-length from Neurosis (that’s not counting the aforementioned collaboration) is called Honor Found in Decay. It features seven tracks and clocks in at an hour even, making it the shortest since 1990’s sophomore LP, The Word as Law, though the difference between it and much of the band’s post-Souls at Zero (1992) discography, time-wise, is only five to 10 minutes. Still worth noting. More pivotal, however, is the emotional and musical progression of the band. It’s been more than five years since Given to the Rising was issued in May 2007, and of course the work in individual members of Neurosis have done outside the band since then – guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till in Harvestman and with his solo project, guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly with Shrinebuilder and his solo projects, keyboardist Noah Landis’ outside collaborations with Kelly, drummer Jason Roeder with Sleep and even visual artist Josh Graham with A Storm of Light – has fed into that progression, but Neurosis at this point is like the temple to which these players – as well as bassist Dave Edwardson, whose work here and throughout the band’s discography is both overshadowed and essential – sojourn every few years, coming together for periodic shows from their various geographic locales in the western part of the country, California, Oregon, Idaho, and writing either via the internet, or individually, or some combination of that, or some mysterious other process. Perhaps distance is part of the reason it’s taken Honor Found in Decay (which, like everything Neurosis does at this point, is released on their own Neurot Recordings imprint) five years to materialize – engineer Steve Albini’s schedule might also have something to do with it – but even if so, the new full-length works quickly to justify the wait. Among the many hyperbolic things it is, it is the work of a group of artists unmatched in their relentless pursuit.
What exactly they’re pursuing could probably be the subject of a master’s thesis, but in the case of Honor Found in Decay, one need not look much farther than the album cover for some clue. Since 1993’s landmark Enemy of the Sun, but especially since 2001’s A Sun that Never Sets (the art for which came from the venerable Seldon Hunt), the visual presentation of Neurosis releases has been an especially apt statement of the mood of the album. Thanks to Graham, 2004’s more ambient, brooding The Eye of Every Storm came dressed in cloud-greys as though descended from some snowy mountain, weathered and tired, and Given to the Rising made its bleak, angrier perspective clear in its foreboding but still textural blacks. To look at Honor Found in Decay, then, Graham (who, judging by this and his cover for the forthcoming Soundgarden album, seems to have entered his “put stuff in a pile and take a picture of it” period; no complaints) brilliantly maintains the realistic aspects of Given to the Rising – a photograph, not a painting – while also feeding into a sense of ritual with candles and what looks like tribal-design covered armaments and keeping a connection to the land via the dirt and ash at the bottom. The lighting is natural, but there’s a human sensibility there too. You’re clearly in a room, looking at a wall behind, covered with pictures or who knows what, and there’s a workbench or some other shelving, covered in the chaos of a working life. It could very well be Graham’s studio space, I don’t know, but it gives that kind of impression, mirroring some of Honor Found in Decay’s more chaotic musical moments, like those of “All is Found… in Time”’s early stretches or the masterfully churning culmination of “Bleeding the Pigs.” So there is the earth, the bones, the ritual, the chaos, the humanity, and we can’t ignore the three spear or arrow points below the logo and title, so there’s violence as well, or at very least the aftermath thereof. It’s a scope no less encompassing than the songs themselves – all the more fitting for that – and the melding of browns and yellows with the black char underscores the central mood of the album, which is not as outwardly raging as was Given to the Rising, and still dark, but wizened, older seeming.
Interpretations will of course vary, but it’s important to keep in mind that Neurosis themselves are not that calculating or cerebral in their processes. Even if Graham was playing off the atmospheres in the songs in his creation of the cover art, there’s no doubt he had something completely different in mind than what I’ve stated above; the work’s success is in being evocative. In this as well the art stands in line with the audio density of Honor Found in Decay, the album’s atmosphere allowing the imagination to foster a host of visual landscapes and scenes – “Bleeding the Pig” being particularly vivid – while nonetheless crushing everything in its expansive sights with tonal and ambient weight and lyrics concerning time, kin, penance, nature and the passage from one to the next that the titular “decay” hints at. The progression between the songs is markedly fluid – Kelly discusses his feelings on structuring albums in the recent interview for his latest solo album – but because the personalities of the tracks are nonetheless distinct and representing individual ideas, it seems appropriate to engage them one at a time in a track-by-track analysis. I was back and forth on the idea, because I didn’t want to take away from how well Honor Found in Decay works taken as a whole – it should be taken as a whole, it’s not like Neurosis are writing 12 three-minute radio singles – but hopefully a better look at the pieces will lead to a more engaged understanding of the whole. We’ll begin with the opener, “We all Rage in Gold.”
1. We all Rage in Gold (6:36)
Shortly before the five-minute mark into late album cut “Water is Not Enough” from Given to the Rising, the song hit its peak in furious riffing topped with a kind of high-pitched swirl – presumably from Landis, but I wouldn’t count out the possibility of that being either Kelly or Von Till’s guitars, either – and that same kind of noise begins Honor Found in Decay. Here it is repurposed into a lonely, spiritual kind of digital smoke that winds its way up from silence to precede the opening guitar figure that becomes the basis tempo-wise for what follows. Edwardson joins with subtle rumble, and it’s all unassuming until at 54 seconds, “We all Rage in Gold” bursts to life, Roeder signaling the launch with a crash that brings the full version of the initial progression, surprisingly upbeat in its kick and higher-end while the bass underscores with runs that will stand out as some of the album’s best. The first vocal lines of the album are, “I walk into the water/To wash the blood from my feet,” and they resound the interplay between Kelly and Von Till that will ensue. The duo’s deliveries have grown so much in tandem with each other that it’s hard at times to pick out where the one or the other is singing when the themes are as consistent as they are on Honor Found in Decay – one always wants to credit Kelly with a harsher, angrier growl and Von Till with reverence to the land, but that’s no more a metric than anything – but they’re most effective and most serving the dynamic when they come together, as they do on the subsequent “At the Well” or the later “Casting of the Ages,” as well as elsewhere throughout. With “We all Rage in Gold,” it’s the encompassing whole that carries you with it, rather this or that element, though Kelly’s vocal readily displays the range of emotion he’s come to convey as a singer over time. Following an elongated verse, the song breaks at 2:41 to a quieter stretch – once again Edwardson’s bass shines from beneath the guitar – and when Roeder breaks on the drums, Landis chimes in to fill out the soundscape with foreboding keywork. A soft vocal line turns guttural at 4:05 and the instruments offer likewise explosion, rounding out the last two minutes-plus of the track with a slower push topped at first by throaty vocal lines, and then marches out instrumentally, strings arriving at 4:52 – I don’t want to assume it’s Jackie Perez Gratz on the cello, though she’s contributed to Neurosis before; if you told me Landis’ keys or a tape loop, I’d believe you; the noise is obscure but melodic – and rumbling to a close that feeds into the quiet opening of “At the Well.”
2. At the Well (10:05)
The core of “At the Well” is a linear build. It’s one of Honor Found in Decay’s most effective – going from near silence to raging cacophony in its 10-minute span – and made all the more so by various fluctuations between. A soft guitar strum and breathy Von Till vocal offer initial minimalism torn through at the one-minute mark by Roeder’s tribal drumming and distorted guitar and bass. They seem at first to plateau here, Von Till raging out a verse over Roeder’s precision thumping – presented, as ever, cleanly and naturally by Albini’s recording – and sustained, feedback guitars openly riffed, but even here there are changes taking place to signal movement in the overarching build. Flourishes of (what sounds like) slide guitar add to the tension being created, the stomach tightening for a release that comes 3:24, when Roeder adds cymbals to roughly the same rhythm, no less driving, and Kelly joins on in on vocals. The apex of “At the Well” is still a long way off, but that’s something of a preview, breaking to synth swirls, ambient guitar and backwards cymbal washes at 4:19, either sampled or real bagpipes bringing up a mournful feel that persists even as the instruments resume their lumbering trail, the slide guitar resuming, echoing behind the revived vocal line and fuller distortion. The line “Smoke from a gaping wound,” is a standout and should be telling in terms of the track’s overall impression at this point. They break again to quiet circa six minutes, Landis’ synth taking the fore once again, though a quiet guitar remains, and a likewise subdued spoken word recitation begins, culminating with the line, “Prophecy flows in whispers” before at seven minutes in, “At the Well” meets its payoff. It’s important to remember for the longer track that this is still relatively early into the context of the whole album, and though there’s no shortage of back and forth playing out, the line Neurosis draw is still very much moving forward. Nonetheless, it is with their own and so often imitated feeling of apocalyptic claustrophobia that they culminate “At the Well.” As has been the case thus far into Honor Found in Decay, there’s tension but no gradual swell. The song explodes. Its action is tornado violent. Eight repetitions of the lyric “In a shadow world” only make the churn more visceral before two guitar leads take hold, the first a wavering, plotted course and the second a buzzsaw that cuts through everything in its path – including Roeder’s increasingly manic tom runs – and threatens to derail the song entirely with the force of its plunder. Any other band and it might have, but the “In a shadow world” incantation resumes, this time for a course of 16 that acts as a foundation for additional vocals built on top of it, bringing in Edwardson to excellent effect alongside Von Till and Kelly, the first two blocks of four lines marking the changes and the last eight acting as the apex prior to the finishing crash and feedback hum at 9:41. Neurosis have arranged three-part vocals before – the prior instance that comes to mind most immediately is “Falling Unknown” from A Sun that Never Sets – but they employ it well here, and at the point “At the Well” crashes, it legitimately feels like there’s nowhere else the song could have gone. Like they pushed it to the very edge and then off the side of a cliff.