The Missing Rant
It is customary to write a lengthy preamble to our lists, and I am normally hilariously guilty of overwriting mine.
Fact is, this year I am tired. Depressed, clinically and otherwise. Old. Cotton headed. Without a spark. Tricky turns of phrase are not forthcoming. So instead of writing some manifesto of pointlessness, let’s just dive in.
It will come as no surprise that my slots are essentially interchangeable. I have a super effective and elaborate method of meting out points that is also super subjective and really only helps me corral my thoughts. Tomb Mold and Immortal Bird: who made the better record? Yes. Car Bomb and Blood Incantation? OK. Nile vs. Weeping Sores? Absolutely. Fact is, on any given day you could reverse my list and still be accurate. If I didn’t like a record, it didn’t make my list at all. If it made my list, I like it.
20-11: It’s not 10-1, but it is almost 10-1.
20. Cara Neir – III/IV
I really miss Burnt by the Sun a lot. Cara Neir fills a hole left by the lack of BbtS. Melodic and chaotic, furious and frail by turns.
19. Nixa – Opus Tierra
A crushing doom band with a very satisfying vocalist and classicist melodies to push the heft around.
18. Organectomy – Existential Disconnect
A clinical take on brutal gutterality, this brings a laser precision to the wounds it inflicts, acting as a refreshing palette cleanser from all the gorgeous fatty murk death metal has brought us this year.
17. Abyssal – A Beacon in the Husk
A sound story of cosmic proportions, told from the very depths of a dead star. Voluminous and darkly fascinating. Whether blasting or sludging, there is a terror endemic to this album.
16. Death Angel – Humanicide
One of the best of the original thrash albums was The Ultra Violence. So many years later, Death Angel is still bringing fire and deftness that defies reason. Mark Osegueda remains one of the unsung (get it?!) vocal heroes of thrash music.
15. Noisem – Cease to Exist
Grindblackthrashdeath. Pure. Fuck the niches.
14. Gatecreeper – Deserted
Ah, I was wondering when we’d get a dose of HM-2 in this list. Traditional death metal that gets everything right and nothing wrong.
13. Oozing Wound – High Anxiety
Metal can take itself pretty seriously, at least from outside. And that’s fine by me, but I will always keep a place for Lawnmower Deths and Old Lady Drivers in my heart. Oozing Wound has a tongue in its cheek. Can’t say whose. But they still manage to make some moshtastic music while chewing on it.
12. Disentomb – The Decaying Light
Hulking death metal with spritely little moves. Oxymoron? Not in their hands.
11. Inter Arma – Sulphur English
This is a long walk, granted. But when you finally get there, my god was it worth it.
10-1, EXACTLY LIKE 10-1
10. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Yn Ol I Annwn
I am busy. I can’t hear every damned record every damned band ever damned makes. So as the end of the year approaches I ask the fellas for recs on anything I might have missed. FetusGhost mentioned this band and the name alone forced me at knife point to give it a listen.
Thank god. This is Shonen Knife if they had fallen in love with Black Sabbath instead of The Ramones. And I mean that in the best possible sense. Truly hooky sludge / doom with a vocalist at once pixie lovable and banshee horrifying, this record brings a welcome twist to the mournfully stoned.
9. Nucleus – Entity
To my mind this year started out bereft of death, but around the midway point bodies started dropping like Democratic subpoenas. Death owned the summer, and continued to own the fall. Part of that is thanks to Nucleus.
Another in the growing sci-die motif death metal has been gurgling around with, Entity crams the void with dirty, time-shifting Incantation-esque pounders that satisfy on both primal and intellectual levels.
8. No One Knows What the Dead Think –No One Knows What the Dead Think
Look, if the dead can think (which I doubt, but that is the premise we are presented with) then they know what they think, and they are someones, so I call bullshit.
Apart from that obvious flaw, this is a flawless North American crusty grind record. Nothing overstays its welcome, emotionally compelling performances, and not a throwaway riff or vocal to be found. The kind of depth and intricacy we should expect from this outfit of veterans makes this a stellar grind release in a fairly grindless cycle.
7. Cerebral Rot – Odious Descent
Another powerfully icky death metal entrant, this time gurgling up from a swamp like some drunken salamander. This whole record makes one feel unclean, fetid and sloshed with fecund miasma or whatever words make you think of drowning in oxygen-less skunk water. This band has more lurch than all the Addams Family franchises combined. In other words, just exactly what keeps us coming back.
6. Car Bomb – Mordial
Somewhere the child version of myself is throwing a tantrum. That version loved Beatles and Bee Gees and Monkeys and Tommy James. He loved simple, sensible, and easy to understand, easy to internalize music that made him want to dance.
He needs to go fuck himself. Car Bomb makes no sense, does nothing that is simple or understandable and they FLAY. This is not for the weak minded or the easily distracted. It is not for dancing or even moshing. This is music the quivers and ebbs and distracts itself only to sneak up on itself and murder itself. Triumphantly. While somehow making even the occasional pop-metal vocals intimidating. Tempo, niches, expectations are nothing but silly putty to this band. And that makes me so happy.
5. Immortal Bird – Thrive On Neglect
One of the reasons writing year-end lists is so fun, apart from making the Count Von Count laugh after each number, is saying something meaningful or amusing about a record that was meaningful or amusing for you. Of course, if you already wrote a review full of that stuff, you are probably just paring it down to a blurb version of what you already wrote. It can seem pointless. Just go read my review. It’s all in there.
But Ima’ gild the lily: Immortal Bird is great and getting better. They smoosh emotion, fervor and bestial talent into a model of what metal will look like ten years from now. Intimate, yet vast; brutal, yet sublime. They have set themselves up to move in any stylistic direction and then move back, so that there is nothing forbidden except mediocrity. And YOU ARE THERE. Fucking magic.
4. Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
What the hell can be said about Karl Sanders that fully encapsulates what he has accomplished? As the soul remaining founding member of Nile, it must feel astounding that a record released twenty years or so from their initial full length should sound and feel at once fresh and perfectly at home with the rest of the catalog.
Despite the lineup changes, the vision for the band has not changed. And neither has the quality and intensity. Fresh blood or old souls, Vile Nilotic Rights comes as Ramses of old: with war, pestilence, bellowed curses, crushed corpses and RIFFS!
Side Note: I finally saw Nile this year. They had room enough on stage for only the drums and amps, so the guitarists had to play on the dance floor. They flailed like it was Donnington circa ’88. This is a band in love with what they do, and Osiris damn it: so am I.
3. Weeping Sores – False Confession
Whether you care or not, knowing (and liking) people in a band, however briefly or distantly, makes this reviewer nervous. Am I a homer? Am I trying too hard NOT to be a homer? Can I say for sure, one way or another?
Thing is, listen to the fucking record. Tell me I am wrong. Tell me it isn’t everything I suggested in my review. Moving, heaving, lilting, terrifying, crushing, edifying… listen to the fucking thing and tell me I am just a homer. If you can, then maybe I am. But I suggest you might be made of candy.
2. Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Sci-Death, Death-Fi Sci-Fi Death, Death Sci-Fi, post mortal speculative fiction… something turned on a lot of metal bands to the idea of the cold dark expanses and technology gone mad world of SF, and we are sure the better for it. Blood Incantation has managed to incorporate SF into music that feels as permanent and necessary as Nespithe, Close to a World Below and Obscura. Taking the organic feel of Starspawn and building stellar compositions which compliment both their style and their subject has pushed Blood Incantation into the forefront of modern death.
1. Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Tomb Mold is now a classic death metal band. Because Planetary Clairvoyance is a classic death metal record. Fight me. If you lose, you are wrong. If you win, you are wrong. This fucker got me ready to die on some hill or other over whether Tomb Mold is on par with Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Nile and Morbid Angel. They are. This shit moves even that which is immovable. It pulpifies even that without pulp. It defiles even that without…files. It has purity without having the malignant stain of hackney. Planetary Clairvoyance is without flaw because it is without shits to give. It just wants you to headbang. And thus becomes immaculate.
Not 10-1, nor nearly 10-1, but not worth overlooking
Another five, because they were considered:
Malevich – Our Hollow
Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave
Misery Index – Rituals of Power
Lord Vicar – The Black Powder
Concrete Winds – Primitive Force
Another two late entries worth writing about
For whatever reason some music doesn’t get in the cue for consideration in my best of until I already have it laid out. I often consider adding them, but I haven’t really “ingested” the music, which makes it unfair to the other acts and the reader. On the other hand no one reading this actually gives a shit one way or another, but self-imposed standards are still standards, and a body’s gotta’ have em’. A couple of records I just heard (in the last week or so of the published date of this most auspicious article) I still feel should be addressed.
Cattle Decapitation: Death Atlas. Having gone all in on the strangely strangled vocals that have acted as punctuation in the past, Cattle Decap may have overestimated their fan’s tolerance. Of course, it feels hilarious to even discuss this given the general tolerance for questionable vocalizing metalheads exhibit. But the controversy (not a controversy) obscures what may be the most important lyrical contribution to metal…well, ever. Why? Because the subjects and emotions of these songs fucking matter. They are not just about something, but about the fucking main thing. Humans are destroying their environment, and most of them are digging in all the harder for knowing this. There is no topic more important, and less explored, in metal. Gods, Satans, Hammer Smashed Faces, Hypocrisy, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia….none of that shit matters if the subjects/victims all died in the inevitable fucking famines to come. Also, the music itself kills.
Ithaca: The Language of Injury. Much as with Cara Neir, Ithaca scratches the Burnt By the Sun itch I have never really gotten over. The true modern crossover of hard and grind cores, respectively, Ithaca attacks with just the right combo of intensity, brevity and melody, propelled by riffing that belongs in the same league as Converge and Botch. Similarly also to Car Bomb, the group finds a way to introduce clean vocalizing without compromising the fury. Worth your attention.
This is the part of the year end list where I spend some time celebrating or irritating metaldom and myself. I go on and on about whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s a chance to let my expository whims loose.
I don’t have it in me this year. It’s just not there. I don’t know if I should apologize or say “You Are Welcome.” It was a great metal year, but it was a fucking dismal year for everything else. And 2020 looks even worse from where I sit.
In a way, it feels like the world caught my depression. My internal war is becoming external. Is it cynicism if the evidence supports it, though?
Where I used to look at some creature, some animal, and wonder at what makes it what it is, how it came to be, where it might go from here, now I wonder if, in twenty years, it will exist?
Where I used to look at a freshman student and wonder how their life will turn out, whether they will make the great discovery, write the great novel, or just major in business and end up owning a stretch cab pickup for no reason, now I wonder if they will migrate east to the overcrowded wet states or try to stick it out here in the inter-mountain area as the water ghosts from the desert southwest and the relatively wet little pockets like where I live are all that remain inhabitable?
Where I used to look to my fellow Americans to slowly – all too slowly – but surely move toward a more perfect union, now I wonder if we even have enough time left to see some kind of practical equanimity between all our various American peoples?
I wonder too whether I will have anything to offer in the coming strife, as my back and my knees and my eyes and my mind succumb to frayed telomeres and worn cartilage?
Harry Nilsson, who was never heavy metal but was still an immaculate songwriter, once observed that “You gotta have hope, it’s the price you gotta pay.” I did, and I did. You have to have hope to lose it.
As far as metal goes, it can be the soundtrack to the end as surely as it can be the soundtrack to anything else. In fact, it is more fitting.
Thanks for reading, populating the site and going to shows. Thanks for being. I hope I am full of shit and you get to keep that up for a long time.