Music has had so many ridiculously good gems to offer in the past few years that writing this introduction to our annual Artist’s Edition of our “Best Of” list makes me feel like a broken record. 2015 didn’t bring the “super-group” surprises nor the impressive newcomers that 2014 did, but it did offer up a wealth of notable returns for some of post-industrial’s most important artists including Yen Pox, November Növelet, Deutsch Nepal, Lycia, Prurient, and KnifeLadder. The folk end of the spectrum was especially productive with great new offerings from In Gowan Ring, Jännerwein, King Dude, Ô Paradis, the Hare and the Moon, and the Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus. Our metal counterparts brought us everything from new albums for Urfaust and Mgła to a surprisingly heavy return for Chelsea Wolfe.
Unfortunately, 2015 also wasn’t without its rock-bottom. John Murphy has been a pillar for post-industrial music since the early 80s, and indeed his loss has been felt by a great many friends to an extraordinary extent. His is a loss that is not replaceable on any level, and in the interest of keeping this short, we’ll simply leave on this note: As brilliant as 2015 was for music, for many of us, this year will be dedicated to the remembrance of a legend.
Now, on to the music…
Don Anderson (Agalloch, Sol Invictus) | Credit: Veleda Thorsson
Perhaps I’m biased here because Agalloch and Vhol share a drummer. But, my admiration for this record, if Aesop (Dekker) will forgive me, is master guitarist John Cobbett. This is a guitar album. John’s work is technically sharp and meaningfully structured. His attention to tone and phrasing is unparalleled and this album demonstrates that John Cobbett is one of the most underrated and important guitarists working in metal today. I’m both humbled and envious.
Like everyone else, I listened to this record over and over. There are riffs on here I could listen to on repeat and never tire of. The interplay between both rhythm guitars is a constant reward. I’m still listening to it.
I take lists very seriously. They allow me to vicariously talk shop with other music obsessives and inform my discovery of endless new works. The only way to justify a mere three titles in summation of a year, I choose to submit my pop pick of the year, my experimental pick of the year, and my dark/rock pick of the year in order as follows:
Criminally, criminally overlooked and absent from nearly all year-end lists. This one came out of nowhere at the tail of the year and is an absolute smash in every sense of the word. The first seven tracks are without flaw, infectious in a way that trumps all of the other pop artists treading similar water. The production is polished without feeling forced or passionless. Those that have formed an opinion based on the hype attached to her early work and have decided to avoid this one are doing themselves a disservice. I cannot stress how perfect this record is, and despite being ignored, I think we will see traction in the coming year if the singles are pushed out correctly.
Luke Younger is without question one of the greatest living musicians of our time. Whether you enjoy ambient work, noise, electro-acoustic, et al, or have a penchant for innovators like Kevin Drum, Ian William Craig, etc., you are sure to enjoy who I consider to be a current manifestation of Steve Reich and Philip Glass in their prime. Make no mistake, Helm does not sound like those last two mentioned, but the spirit and forward-thinking state of mind exists in Younger’s work. This is modern composition at its best: Whether through percussive elements, field recordings, noise, etc., Younger is in complete control of the frequencies and has a vision far above anyone else working today.
Masterpiece of dark pulsing noise, industrial, and post-everything, the artistry and mastery of sound, the patience required to compose this work across the span of the record, the attention to detail … this album is my favorite record of the year overall. I only use the tag “rock” here partly because it is unclassifiable, and also to distinguish it from “pop,” et al. The key to this album is to listen to it in its entirety. I don’t think anyone saw this record coming despite Chondritic’s record of excellence. Before this record, one would be hard-pressed to find something to recommend to fans of old Ministry, Prurient, William Basinski, and Burial with equal fervor and confidence.
Lee Bartow (Theologian, Annihilvs, Navicon Torture Technologies)
Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems to have been an especially long one, and my memory of the earlier parts of 2015 are vague and fuzzy. This year had a lot of extreme highs and lows for me, and seems to be ending on a relatively sour note in some ways. Speaking of sour notes, here are three albums that made an impact on me in 2015, and while there were very many that I could be listing here, if I’m forced to pick only three, here are the albums that I played on repeat for months at a time this year.
The top slot on my list goes to the album I was turned on to most late in the year. Released by Battleground Records in September, I was introduced to the existence of this West Coast duo via this debut full-length album, thanks to my friend (and now musical collaborator) Dave Brenner of Earsplit PR in late October. The simplest way to describe this band is “industrial metal,” though that oversimplifies and vastly understates what’s going on here. Though rooted deeply and firmly in the sound pioneered by early SWANS and those who followed in their footsteps, there is something particularly contemporary about this band. They’ve expertly crafted an album that simultaneously occupies endless, echoing spaces and creates crushing, claustrophobic atmospheres.
If I have to think of highlights from the past year, the insanely stressful and massive undertaking of the sixth biennial APEX FEST stands at the top of the pile. Seeing tracks from this album performed collaboratively by Karjalan Sissit and Sophia multiple times during the festival tour, including Frederic Arbour from Cyclic Law (and myself at the final show in Montreal), before I’d even heard them in recorded form, put a special spin on the experience when I finally got around to listening after the post-tour dust had cleared. As a friend of mine put it, “Karjalan Sissit is my favourite Swedish martial-industrial band with power electronics vocals spewing ignorant redneck Finnish lyrics.” Oddly specific, but that’s the best description one could apply to this release. I remember listening to Sophia years ago and thinking, “imagine what this stuff would sound like with harsh distorted vocals over it,” and now we know. Absolutely brutal, majestic, and unique.
Even with the very small amount of contact I’ve had with him, it was always clear to me that John Murphy was a giant amongst men, and it’s greatly unfair that we lost him this year. Originally slated for a 2016 release date, this album came on the heels of Murphy’s passing, in order to aid with the expenses resulting from such an event. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding its existence notwithstanding, what we’ve got here is a beautifully dark, embittered statement on the human condition.
There were a lot of wonderful releases this year, especially in the various subgenres associated with black metal. I was very eagerly anticipating and then very disappointed by Krallice’s “Ygg Hurr.” The band seems to have devolved into self-parody, embodying a caricature created by their critics who in the past somehow missed their stunning and emotive atmospheres and latched only onto their overly rational and technical dimensions. I’m quite shocked to have instead been thoroughly impressed by two releases by black metal veterans who I barely pay attention to anymore. Enslaved’s “In Times” and Gorgoroth’s “Instinctus Bestialis” were profoundly powerful. Neither band attempted to recreate themselves, but instead achieved great things by relying on what they have done best. That said, my first two picks for best releases of 2015 come from black metal bands.
There’s something about “With Hearts Toward None” that really captivated me, casting the entire oeuvre of this band in a new light. While “Exercises in Futility” doesn’t quite stack up to that 2012 full-length, it is mature and also contributes to the mystique that is so consistently maintained by this powerful Polish black metal band. The production and execution will warrant reasonable comparison to orthodox black metal acts more typical of Scandinavia, and yet there are still many aspects of the album that are unmistakably Mgła.
Spectral Lore is a one-man atmospheric black metal project from Greece that continues to progress. Though I mentioned the release, I didn’t put last year’s double album, “III,” in my top picks, and that was a mistake. It has stood the test of repeated listens over another year. I have probably listened to the second disc’s opener, “The Spiral Fountain,” at least a hundred times. “Gnosis” will similarly hold up, especially with the track “A God Made of Flesh and Consciousness.” Though often considered an EP, this nearly fifty-minute-long masterpiece is every bit as epic as “III.” The songs are ambitious, passionately executed, and simply big.
This choice is rather different from the prior two, and comes from an artist I have followed for over a decade across dozens of releases. This is among his best and during a typically prolific point in his active career. “Half Lives” covers a lot of territory, from the minimal to the dense, with songs veering at times toward musique concrete, and at others composed with full-band instrumentation with vocals. This is drone music that can even satisfy those with short attention spans, but nonetheless, as a double-album, it is thoughtfully compiled with twenty-one tracks that work perfectly together.
The decorated folk hero and Neurosis frontman solo-project is back with another haunting ambient neo-folk album. Having gone into a more folk-rock direction with previous efforts, I am beyond excited to hear Steve Von Till bringing back the ambient and psychedelic influences. Keep it pure.
Vehement Caress is an unheralded Boston project who skirts the seedy edges of ambient/noise/power electronics. Further expanding his steadily growing discography with “Frailty,” Lex Russo continues to refine his already exceptional skills with this varied album of surging walls of harmonic drones that build to leaning towers of powers electronics-tinged industrial.
3. ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottír – In the Light of Air (Sono Luminus)
This is the International Contemporary Ensemble performing a body of works by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottír. The work could be described as otherworldly, but if you have experienced the strange landscape of Iceland, you know that places like this exist. Electro-acoustic with a subtle hint of ambient and drone, this delicate music is a mood-setter like no other and provides for the deepest of listening experiences.
I spent many years trying not to like T.J. Cowgill, writing him off as another darling of Vice magazine’s idea of what is edgy and underground—a pretty boy with a clothing company. Even at my age, life still teaches me that whole book-and-cover lesson. This was hands-down my most played record of the year. Cowgill wears his influences on his sleeve, and creates songs in the lost art of a story. Drifting between folky Death in June, pitch-black Gothic Country, and drinking from the well of Leonard Cohen, this is an album I’ll be wearing the grooves off of for years to come.
Urfaust continue to push the boundaries of black metal as they’ve done damn near since their inception. Even though it’s a mere four tracks (granted one of them is over twenty-two minutes), this is still a record I’ll play on endless repeat. Minimal, dark, and cavernous, it’s black metal chamber music more at home in a cathedral than a club. I’m also convinced IX is pretty much the best vocalist in metal today.
Ritual music is usually a misnomer for any ambient side-project of countless self-styled occultists flooding the “underground” today. Rarely are magical acts made flesh to the degree as this release. Idehall is an author, publisher, painter, sculpture, and occultist in the truest sense of the word. A double-LP set bound within a stunning sixty-eight page book, complete with corresponding sigils. Limited to only sixty-eight copies, that these are still available is both surprising and a crime, but such is the world. This goes far beyond a mere audial adventure, an absolutely stunning release.
T. J. Cowgill (King Dude, Not Just Religious Music)
The genre of metal music has become so massive, unchecked, and overpopulated that it’s easy to grow weary and tiresome of the search for a solid metal release with something approaching true profundity. I feel as if I want to give up on the genre almost at least once a day, but I persevere and continue my quest. As a result of such toilsome work, it can be extra rewarding when you discover a release that not only shirks the common sacrilegious, gore-soaked album covers and adjective heavy/pseudo-intellectual “phony-baloney” song titles, but one that also steers clear of metal’s common and often overused musical tropes like endlessly looped and plastic-sounding blast-beats, impossibly perfect guitar wank, and guttural vocals that touch upon not much else but random acts of misogyny and poop jokes.
France’s Chaos Echœs happens to be one of those bands who, while remaining somewhat rooted in and committed to the heavier side of music, namely the sludgier and grimier sides of death and black metal, manages to break free of that confining and regularly abused genre. Sure, distorted guitars, blasting drums, and rubbery bass notes are piped out of this four-piece’s arsenal, but that’s only part of their rather unique sound. In just as heavy of a dose, Chaos Echœs also deal in, among other things, wide-open chasms of howling ambience, trance-inducing percussion, and ritualistic chanting, often throwing them all together in a glorious-sounding miasmal stew of otherworldly wretchedness. Hold your nose and dive-in; these dark waters are sickeningly beautiful.
Consider me a bit of a poser and a latecomer to the Chelsea Wolfe bandwagon. Or, maybe not; truth be told, I’d heard of her, and on more than one occasion had heard some of her music, but it never grabbed me the way everyone was telling me that it was supposed to. Well, sometime late last summer, a large number of people I know—both musicians I admire and people who I think are generally “in the know” about all things musical—were posting some of the songs from “Abyss,” and I decided to give it another go. Am I ever glad that I did.
While Wolfe’s music prior to this release was in no way lacking in passion, mood, and emotion—all things I cherish greatly in any musical genre—it lacked something I couldn’t put my fingers on. Turns out the only thing her music needed was a greater amount of gnarly, down-tuned guitars, a hint of dark ambience, and perhaps a bit of electronic glitch added here and there. The resulting performances on “Abyss” are electrifying, commanding, and perfectly somber. I am in awe of every word that drips like blackened blood from Wolfe’s lips; I hang tenuously onto each note strummed from her guitar like a jilted lover about to take a final leap over the cliff and into the abyss after one too many rejections. Chelsea Wolfe’s “Abyss” has a rawness and pitch-dark power that I haven’t experienced from an artist in quite some time, and my heart melts in the presence of its exquisite sadness. My apologies for ignoring this invite for so long. Will you all still have me?
Admission #1: Battles‘ “Mirrored” is one of my favorites of the 21st century. Admission #2: Battles’ “Gloss Drop” was largely ignored by me as I still mostly believed that following the departure of musician/vocalist Tyondai Braxton from their fold, the three remaining members attempted to fill that gap in by allowing a host of guest vocalists to occupy the vacant hole that Braxton once occupied. While I can imagine that the remaining members of Battles wanted to continue on with a formula that had worked for them in the past, it seems like a fun but failed attempt to emulate their immediate past to my ears.
“La Di Da Di” is Battles’ third full-length album and their first to feature absolutely no vocal contributions at all. It’s a wise move, and it’s the album I wished they would have made after “Mirrored.” Turns out that as much as the wacky, Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks cartoon vocals worked for them in their earlier phase of existence, the band without vocals sound every bit as good. The three members that comprise Battles have free reign to bob, weave, dance, jump, fall down, run around, and joyfully convulse all they want without their strange, vaguely poppy sounding avant-garde quirk rock being veiled by distracting vocalizations. I’ve always been so very impressed with how fluidly the band move between traditional sounding passages of guitar/bass and drums before diving straight into something resembling a wildly hallucinogenic video game and then into a head-nodding tribal rhythm before skirting around a few more corners to somehow end up back where they started. Like a psychic school of multi-hued fish, communicating invisibly while moving at inhuman speed and turning at absurd angles, Battles’ music is dazzling, graceful, absurdly complex, and, really, just a whole lot of fun to witness. La-di-da-di, Battles likes to party, they don’t cause trouble, and they don’t bother nobody.
Brandon Elkins (Auditor, Iron Forest, A Crown of Amaranth, Turing Heat)
Shattered, fucked-up punk rock that actually manages to sound pissed off and vital is pretty thin on the ground in the year of Our Lard 2015. Bib is insane, fast, three-chord punk with swirling, manic vocals that is an urgent and badly needed kick in the pants. Grab it at their Bandcamp page and throw them a few bones.
There’s some funny stuff going on in eastern Massachusetts in the form of Dark World rappers DJ Lucas and Gods Wisdom. Off-kilter bedroom beats with quirky, idiosyncratic squawks that echo the Atlanta sound. Oh, and they sample the “Law and Order” theme on this album. So weird.
Easily the heaviest album I heard in 2015, possibly one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard. Death/Doom with a healthy dose of dark ambient atmospheres. The guitar and bass are tuned so low that it’s difficult to discern if “riffs” are even being played. The drumming is so fast and repetitive that I assumed it was a machine (it isn’t). I imagine that this is what it feels like to have a tank run you over for thirty minutes. Essential.
The power electronics record that I revisited the most in 2015. If you know Koufar, you should know what to expect—if you don’t know Koufar, you best get to listening. Intense, violent, and completely vicious Lebanese Nationalist power electronics. Brilliant sounds, absolutely inhuman vocals that I can’t get enough of, and aural contributions from both Shift and Striations.
Truly brilliant, transcendental dark ambient. It’s harrowingly gorgeous in both composition and the breadth of sounds. This isn’t an album you throw on in the background, it demands your attention. Sit down in the dark and take it all in.
S.P Haché (Night Profound, Mitochondrion, Auroch)
For the most part, my musical year was dominated by some incredibly powerful black metal releases that bubbled to the surface from newer bands like Misþyrming and older re-envisions like Leviathan. However, it is always the most unique sounds that hold my attention in that world. Serpent Noir‘s is one of the strangest, most challenging black metal releases I’ve heard in quite some time. It appears simplistic, but it is dense, textured, and completely austere! Demanding time and attention. Mgła needs no real introduction, and their juxtaposition of bright melody and stoic hatred hurls you directly into the void. Total anthemic misanthropy! As always it’s incredibly hard to boil it down to just a few, and, since I like to represent the post-industrial along side the extreme metal at all times, I had to include the newest King Dude record. As easily his best release, the exploration of some real personal darkness comes off as dreadfully authentic. It sounds like (Black) Sun Records meets Lee Hazelwood singing with Anton LaVey on accompaniment.
Pedro Pimentel—who was busy at the start of the year working with Nine Inch Nails‘ Robert Finck on the “NOCT” soundtrack—came back at the end of the year to Cryo Chamber with “Self Destruction Themes.” It blew me away when submitted the final album. The beautiful cello of Amund Ulvestad is such a beautiful addition to the warm noise riddled serene drone works.
Duncan Ritchie released quite an intricate journey with “Aokigahara.” The Japanese field-recording backdrop was such a perfect choice for melancholy and sad piano parts that creates a thick atmosphere of being in this weird industrial-meets-nature style that is so common to Japan.
A good Momus album plus a two bonus discs of off-kilter covers of David Bowie and Howard Devoto songs. What’s not to like about it?
Andrew King (Epiphany Arts, Solo Artist)
As I invariably only listen to liturgical chant and early music (50%), Baroque tafelmusik (30%), and old boys whinging in pubs (19%) I invariably never hear new stuff until a few years down the line, but this year has been a bit different. In no way am I saying that these are the best recordings of the year, simply that these ones have actually ended up invading my consciousness, which I suppose is some sort of achievement; in no particular order of merit:
It is impossible for me to be objective about this release; the last KnifeLadder album, these pieces should have been out there years ago. I’m glad that they are now properly available, a fitting memorial.
Mike Meacham (Loss, Recluse, Graceless Recordings)
For the first time in a while, 2015 yielded some truly refreshing musical output. Below are my three favorite and most inspiring releases. This was narrowed down from a longer list of twenty-plus, so it was very difficult.
In the past few years, “Doom” and “Death Doom” have been flooded with so many boring acts playing dress-up as an original project offering something new. It hadn’t actually happened until now. Spectral Voice play the most miserable rot imaginable. This is death worship with rotting auras. Gloomy passages and cavernous … everything.
2. TRTRKMMR – Avec la souillure nous entrons au règne de la terreur (Iron Lung)
Roughly translated to “With the Idea of Defilement We Enter the Realm of Terror” (based on a work by P. Ricoeur), TRTRKMMR’s debut full-length strikes with an organic violence and the uneasy feeling of a taut rope around the neck. With songs ranging from minimal death industrial and black metal to power electronics, TRTRKMMR deliver nothing but violence in the end. There are no good times in here—only cold and calculated movements reaching ever forward to the end of life. “The wild fig trees have been uprooted from the graves … their blood to the toad and the bones snatched from the mouth of a bitch in heat are waiting … the dead will rise …”
I’m proud to have been able to release this dirge-laden slab via my small label. It has been a while since I have heard something that resembles “true” funeral doom. Often, it is just a band playing slow, detuned chords that meander into a nap. That’s not the case here. In my old age, I have become jaded and numb in almost every aspect of my life, and this music evoked tears from me (literally) on more than one occasion. The flood of emotion in these two songs washes over you like news of a loved one passing in the night. All becomes cold and you feel comfort suddenly, grateful for pain, for it means you have at least one feeling left.
Thomas Nöla (Disques de Lapin, The Muskets) | Credit: Jawzwa Photo
I haven’t been struck so immediately by a new band in a while. This Philadelphia-based ensemble, fronted by Tony Cesa, has a real “seminal” feel to them. I’ve also heard the adjective “transcendent” used as well. Tony’s got a great delivery and the musicians around him complement him powerfully. This EP includes the title track, which I think is my favorite by them. I look forward to their forthcoming full-length. And, they’re named after a mushroom (I think).
I picked up this album by the Montreal-based project at this August’s Summer’s Wane Festival in Vermont, where we were both playing. I’d say Nighttime was the surprise stand-out of the festival, relying on layers of live-looped electric guitar, violin, and vocals. It sounds like driving through foggy rural back-roads and is released on a DIY cassette in a lyrics sleeve, held together by twine.
3. Ô Paradis – Llega el amor, asoma la muerte (Dark Vinyl)
Demian is, of course, a rare master. So any year he releases an album is a year he’s on my short list. An Ô Paradis album is a singular and uncompromising experience where a listener is whisked off to a Catalonian hillside where a small child lays staring at the clouds dreaming.
All the Mishima-inspired songs from the old releases in new versions plus one brand new Mishima-themed track. A great identity-driven project spanning from rock to neofolk, and a magnificent voice: Sköll from Italy.
TONTTU play’“Anti-Gnomemartialindustrialneofolkmetal’, and they mean it. For fans of great innovative music, ranging from black metal to neofolk, with that special bonus of Finnish (mythology-inspired) humor.
Jännerwein continue to perform on an astonishing level. And you can’t listen to ‘Hoher Gesang’ without being strongly reminded of the Böhse Onkelz classic, ‘Auf gute Freunde’ (with regards to music, melody, and lyrics), which makes the song even better. A toast to good friends and good times!
Mike Page (Sky Burial, Fire in the Head) | Credit: Daniel Page
1. Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – Beauty Will Save the World (Cynfeirdd)
The stunning new album from RAIJ is one of the most beautifully captivating albums I’ve heard. With a haunting atmosphere that is brimming with a sublime passion and light that is all engulfing, it’s impossible not to be moved by it. Why this band aren’t huge in ‘post-industrial’ circles is beyond me.
A follow-up of sorts of Amebix’s phenomenal “Sonic Mass” album, it pulls together a huge array of dark and heavy musical styles and presents them in a way that is not only perfect but undeniably unique. Dark and brooding blend of crust punk and metal with a distinctively Heathen heart.
Debut full-length albums don’t come better than this. Myrkur has taken the formulaic foundations of black metal and fused them with swathes of darkness and light to create an album full of juxtapositions that works seamlessly. A truly stunning album.
Jo Quail (Solo Artist, Rasp, Sol Invictus Collaborator) | Credit: Simon Kallas
I know this album extremely well, having toured extensively with Caspian in 2015, and I can only marvel at the brilliance of the music, the integrity and compositional power, and how smoothly and with such grandeur the tracks translate to live performance. ‘Riosecco’ will always have a special place in my heart, perhaps rather obviously as the ‘cello one’, but aside from that, there is nothing more powerful than hearing a show open with ‘Darkfield’ and abandoning oneself to the unstoppable drive and emotion that pounds and soars. The whole album is a masterclass of largely instrumental rock: beautiful, breathtaking, devastating, and brilliant. I’m very proud to know these boys.
Home-grown talent! These London lads have been rocking our world since 1990 and this, their latest release, is a real return to form. Dirty bluesy rock, straight-forward and getting right to the very centre of each aim! I love it. ‘The Thing I Want’ is anthemic, perfect rock, and as with Caspian, Thunder create legendary live performances of their music, supported by a crowd with unstoppable enthusiasm, and now with the kids as well as the parents! It’s great, the way music should be!
An amazing work. I feel that Matt Howden is making a foray into new, equally hypnotic territory with this work somehow, not just because the pieces are longer with more space to develop, but also because he’s accessing something deeper. I find it immensely inspirational.
Nathaniel Ritter (Kinit Her, Brave Mysteries, Circulation of Light)
Earlier this year, I succumbed to buying a subscription to one of the big players in the streaming music market that will go unnamed, and in turn I heard more new music in 2015 than I have since I stopped working at record stores in 2007. In addition to that huge library of new music, accessible at any time of the day and typically regardless of my location, there was BandCamp’s mountainous addition of exclusive releases. Narrowing this past year’s worth of new music listening to three albums would be nearly impossible if I were to try to select “favorites.” The following three picks are not exactly my that, but what I feel are my favorite representations of a few musical milieus I found myself wading through with eager anticipation and interest as the year pressed on.
2814 is a collaboration between vaporwave pioneers, Hong Kong Express and t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者. I’ve always appreciated the aesthetic of vapowave but usually found the lack of a unique narrative a bit disappointing. 2814 is taking the genre to new heights. Creating expansive soundscapes that are perfect for stormy night drives or relaxing at home with a nice hot tea.
This album sounds like it was recorded on crappy Dollar Store-brand cassette tapes, and that’s a good thing! I believe every song is named after an “X-Files” character that dies on the show. That, coupled with the palpable tape hiss, makes you feel like you’re watching some unearthed VHS tape recorded from TV in the early 90s. Every track has this wonderful esoteric feel to it. Abrasive at first, but once the groove settles, you’ll find yourself moving uncontrollably. This is a dance record, but works even better at home in an armchair.
Just when I was beginning to think sleazy 80s-inspired darkwave was going out of fashion, the fabulously gender-bending Drab Majesty happened. This one is a newer discovery for me, but I’ve got this album on heavy rotation currently. Beautifully shimmering guitars, pulsing synth bass, and passive-aggressive lyrics make this an album definitely worth checking out.
Miro Snejdr (Spitting at Pigeons, Death in June Collaborator)
This album caught my semi-attention when it was launched along with a nice and arty video clip. But when I finally heard the result, I was really impressed: Brian Warner has recorded his most mature and somehow darkest album so far. Just the right step in direction of a singer-songwriter, with stunning tunes by Tyler Bates—culminating in three fascinating folky bonus tracks. This is post-goth-rock for grumpy old guys. Just like me.
I have been a fan of Chelsea Wolfe since I first bought ‘Song from a Room’, but wow, how she has evolved since then. On this new album, ‘Abyss’, she returns to her interest in the darkest rock music and mixes heavy guitars with melancholic vocals and ritualistic drumming. It took me several spins to really love this work, but now I would never want to miss it.
It’s a soundtrack. The string-driven composition comes along with the apocalyptic and brooding images of this ultra-dark Shakespeare adaptation. At times, it pushes this style towards the archaic drum pattern of Wardruna, which is totally absorbing. Visionary and full of dark spirituality, like a frost-covered landscape with no traces of human presence.
It’s one of the symptoms of getting older that your attitude to music tends to change. Rather than listening to something for its own merit, it becomes more of a way of replaying experiences and memories, evocation of remembered atmospheres, etc. This is something we all resist to some extent; we don’t want to be one of those people banging on about seeing the Smiths in 1984 at some working-man’s club, refusing to look on and move on. So, my list is heavily based on bands I have seen live whilst possibly drunk, who I liked, talked to, and bought music from. Mostly…
One of the few compilations you can listen to end-to-end which has consistent quality yet elements of surprise. Made by this Nuremberg/Furth collective featuring such luminaries as Synascape, Kommando, and the ubiquitous M.A.O.. Droning rhythmic noise, but with unexpected elements of melody and humour.
2. Lympha Obscura – Ghosts from the Voynich Manuscript (Naked Lunch)
Picture this scene if you will: You travel to the deepest, darkest depths of South London (pronounced Sarf Lundin) to see an Oxjam charity show, particularly your friend’s band Naevus. It is running approximately three-and-a-half-thousand years late. This is due to the presence of Italians. Now, I love Italians. I love their country, their food, some of their music, and almost all of their women. But an Italian sound-check consists entirely of frowning, hand-waving, standing at the side of the stage hissing earnestly at the promoter, and frequent theatrical head-slapping motions. It does not, at any stage, include setting up, plugging in instruments, running through tracks, or testing microphones, for that would be foolish and donkey-like, and far beneath the role of a tortured artiste … but I digress.
Lympha Obscura were Italian, and almost certainly responsible for all of the above and the Naevus two-and-a-half song set. Annoyingly, they were also excellent, playing a truly mesmerisng, powerful hybrid-set of dark ambient and noise—on many occasions reminding me of Aghast or ‘Contact’-period SPK. All synchronized with astounding original photography projected behind them as they bowed metal and played treated wind and brass instruments. Snap it up if you can find it, a true art piece.
Tamon Miyakita has been the unsung hero behind this city’s hard-edge noise underground for years. Putting on concerts and clubs, performing in numerous outfits and broadcasting, and streaming the results, he has been less a face and more of a spine. We all wanted to support him when he started this new solo venture because he was a nice bloke and he deserved it. We shouldn’t of bothered. We should of supported him because he is producing some of the most astounding, intelligent, powerful, and disturbing power electronics/industrial music going today. Am Not really raises the bar and escapes the cliches and expectations of this genre, and will undoubtedly be appreciated outside of it.
Pablo C. Ursusson (Sangre de Muerdago)
I know I’ve missed a lot this year. Somehow, the older I get, the older gets the music I listen to. A lot of what went through my ears in the past year is from decades ago, but these are my three choices for 2015:
It is not because Webi is a dear friend of mine, nor because he’s one of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met, but this, his first solo album as Waul of the Weald, is a waterfall of amazing folk melodies and mysterious chords. He throws into this album seven songs that deserve not to be missed. Each one of them is more enchanting with every listen, and every song contains guitars, cellos, voices, and percussion, all performed by Webi alone. Good lyrics, good music, good concept, and lots of magic in this album. It has been my companion for the last two months.
2. Dikanda – Live in Leipzig 2015
I’ve been wanting to see Dikanda for years now, and it wasn’t until this year that I had the chance to finally see them live. It was well worth the wait. I nearly ended up in tears twice, and I just wanted to feel forever as I was feeling while I was seeing them perform. A band that pours passion out of all their pores, overwhelming energy, and a team of ridiculously talented musicians, each one of them. Don’t miss Dikanda if they are around you.
B’ee is also a dear friend of mine: a companion of travels, music, and candlelight dinners. Some of the musicians playing along with him in this album, filling it up with beauty, are dear friends too, and are or were also bandmates of mine. In any case, this is a very round and beautiful album, with really inspired moments, just as B’ee always does, and together with the amazing voice, create a very beautiful album that one can’t help but be moved by.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was my first love. The problem with first loves is that they seldom last and they leave you with a false sense of nostalgia that clouds the present. Many fans of classic metal will be familiar with this sense of foreboding that accompanies seeing a band play for the first time in decades, but I wasn’t just impressed by the Mythra reunion gig in February 2015, I was blown away as they ripped into their set like the last 33 years hadn’t happened. There is everything here that you might need: strong vocals, some of the best riffs ever written, and a band that is on fire. The last 10 years have been somewhat of a Golden Age for NWOBHM connoisseurs, and there is no better place to be than the North East. This album brings together their recordings from 1979—1981 in one place and includes five new tracks recorded in 2015.
The best dark-ambient isn’t dark at all, it shines and radiates with its own self-created energy. The scene in 2015 is cluttered and bloated with projects that lack vision and identity but above all the dross the masters will always stand proud—and foremost amongst them are Yen Pox, who with Inade, Schloss Tegal, and Caul are the projects who I feel defined this music in the 1990s. When I first heard “Between the Horizon and the Abyss,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry: laughing in sheer joy and wonder or crying in jealousy. This is vast but always changing, dark but with a sense of contrast, heavy but not monotonous. I have played this album again and again since May, trying to work out its subtleties and mysteries. I wish I had recorded it. There is no greater compliment.
3. The Owl Service – His Pride. No Spear. No Friend. (Horn Records)
I first heard the Owl Service on a compilation album released by Cold Spring Records almost ten years ago. I love the folk revival bands of the 1960s and 70s, but the modern scene passed me by. Who needs another fey mystical strummer whose only connection to the rural is watching “Country File” on a Sunday tea time? Whilst most contemporary “folk” sickened me off I always enjoyed what the Owl Service did and their new album, possibly their last, uses modern instruments to produce beautiful interpretations of traditional British folk songs. I crave music that is basic and primitive; these terms are not pejorative—they are goals to aspire to. I love the intimate, quiet arrangements on this album. It’s good to go out on a high.
Jessica Way (Worm Ouroboros, Barren Harvest) | Credit: Veleda Thorsson