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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Al's 10 best of 2013

As 2013 quickly fades away and drowns in a foggy haze of weed smoke and fine beer the memories of yesteryear are already difficult to muster, but with the veritable slew of outstanding releases throughout '13 I am left with one big glaring memory of another great year for heavy music in all its forms. Our beloved genre goes from strength to strength and with the consistently high quality of heavy music having been released over the past 12 months there is no sign that our scene is fading away with all the other memories that get locked up within the lost rooms full of a thick green haze and frothy hoppy goodness.

Despite my crumbling memory there have been some landmark releases that will forever stick in my mind so this is my 10 best of  '13, a list I have selected from my regular playlist and pulled together from the reviews I have written for Heavy Planet, bar one. This is not an exclusive list and is in no particular order but be sure to click the titles where you will be taken to the bandcamps or 'tubes of these band's amazing music.

Tentacle - Ingot Eye


Tentacle are one of Ice Dragon's many alter egos and they just so happen to be the slowest and most sludgy, dirge filled and filthy Leviathan of otherworldly doom you are ever likely to have plowed into your metal ravaged earholes. For me, this album has everything I want to hear from doom; from it's Lovecraftian hymns howled by a crazed Cthulian high priest, to the ultra black laments that seize control of body and mind and have you involuntarily curled up on the floor and weeping in hopeless terror; the 4 odes to the deep that comprise "Ingot Eye" will slay any hardcore sludge/doom/drone/sickness fan. When the Tentacle gets you, that's fucking it. You give up. *Protip: not to be listened to on your mp3 players whilst trudging the streets as the effect described above only leads to long stints in psychiatric hospitals and a lot of horrible medication.*




Maeth's debut release "Horse Funeral" blew me away when I first heard it. Then, a year later, I listed to their follow up release "Oceans Into Ashes" and I was stunned by what was I was hearing. Maeth are masters of their craft and it shows on this album in a blaze of searing and spine tingling post metal, massive doom riffs, gentle and/or mystical ambiance, powerfully crusty sludge outbursts and electronically sonic experimentalism. Maeth are different and follow no well worn and obvious codes as they forge their own path and it is highly enjoyable to hear. Maeth have a very strong character about them and it shines brightly in their music. With 2 albums under their belt at a level of quality that few can match so early on in their careers; soon enough everyone who loves heavy music, be it doom, sludge, post metal or drone; will know the name and music of Maeth.


Desert Storm - Horizontal Life


I first discovered Desert Storm when their album "Horizontal Life" was sent to us for review. Soon after that I found out they were to play my home town during their tour supporting super-boogie, hard rock Texan trio Honky on their UK tour. I was immediately taken by "Horizontal Life" but when I heard them live I knew then that Desert Storm are a UK band not to be ignored or pushed aside in favour of more well known UK heavy bands. Desert Storm mean business and they are damn hard working to as they always seem to be on the road touring the UK. "Horizontal Life" is an album packed with big bluesy and groovy stoner metal riffs delivered with a confident swagger and gruff that gives a big nod to Clutch at times but Desert Storm add a big heap of dirty sludge metal and even gentle psychedelia to their sound to make it their very own. The song writing on "Horizontal Life" is brilliant and I don't think I will ever get bored listening to this album. I can't wait to hear what they release next and I can't wait for the opportunity to see them play live again.


Toner Low - III


"III" has to be up there (or down) with one of the heaviest albums released in '13. Hailing from the Netherlands, Toner Low have been around a long time and have put out 3 amazing albums of ultra heavy and hypnotically groovy stoner doom. "III" saw Toner Low take their already low tone and push it even lower. It is dangerous to play this album too loudly and through a big bass cab as it will cause your house fall down and probably your neighbor's too. These are frequencies that trigger earthquakes and make you shit yourself but the 4 tracks that comprise "III" are hugely satisfying to hear. Toner Low manage to make their extremely heavy sound warming to the mind, body and soul as their riffs are trance inducing walls of low freq bliss. Hit many bowls, toke as much green as you can and be prepared for a body crushing experience that will leave you catatonic and dribbling in lowend vibrations, but maybe wear a diaper just in case.


AMENRA - Mass V


This album was actually released at the end of 2012 but since I didn't get to hear it until February '13 when I reviewed the album, it makes it onto my 10 best of last year list because for me this is one of the best post metal/power doom albums that I heard in '13. Released on Neurosis' Neurot Recordings, AMENRA come very much from the Neurosis cult of darkly spiritual, earthy and ancient doom and black ambient post metal. A crushing anguish slices through every track on "Mass V" but there is always an underlying essence of determination and hope buried deep within and for those with ears and minds to listen and to understand, "Mass V" is a work of almost religious reveling in introspective but ultimately liberating post metal and atmospheric doom. Whilst AMENRA are cold and harsh and bring images of frozen dead forests smeared with a mist of ghostly memories of lost and pointless battles there is a glint in the eyes of those long dead warriors and the dead trees show tiny green buds on the cusp of bursting. It's deep man.
Throughout 2013 and since signing to Neurot Recordings, AMENRA have toured extensively with many sold out shows and much discussed appearances at several big festivals, and with a UK appearance supporting the mighty Neurosis at Temples Festival in May, AMENRA and their "Church of Ra" will draw their disciples from far off lands for a night of solemn prayers to the doomed.



Trippy Wicked returned last year with the highly anticipated "Underground EP" that showed TW take a darker more sludgier direction than their previous album, "Coming Home". Although TW have never been averse to thick and fuzzy sludge-outs, TW have never sounded so dark, so foreboding and so ultra crushing as they do on this EP. That last bit is not strictly true, I admit, as TW have always been ultra crushing but the fact that the "Underground EP" contains 5 odes to a dying world makes it all the more devastatingly crushing. Surprisingly, 2 of the tracks on the EP are instrumentals, if this can even be called an EP as it feels more like a mini-album, in that it feels so very complete, so solid, as if TW achieved what they set out to do with this EP. Not "as if", they DID achieve what they set out to do, and they achieved it brilliantly. The tone is set for the apocalypse; there is desperation and there is fear but most of all there is hope.
TW had a busy '13, hitting the road to play numerous very successful shows across the UK and with many more lined-up for '14, I do hope TW find time to write a new record this year as with every release they just get better and better.



After something of a long quietus/hiatus for Gonga, they finally returned in '13 with "Concrescence" and my oh my was it worth the wait. Being something of a departure from their previous releases, Gonga released an entirely instrumental album that had them explore a myriad of riff currents but without ever dropping the unmistakable Gonga sound. The seamless transitions from colorfully airy psychedelia to fuzzy warm desert grooves to big and earthy pulverizing doom to experimental and jagged jazz metal are all fine examples of Gonga's long mastered riffcraft abilities. The weaving together of these elements in Gonga's own unique way makes "Concrescence" a highly enjoyable listening experience and shows that Gonga have explored and matured their sound over the years but they still rock as hard as they ever did. Despite no longer having a vocalist, Gonga held onto their vision and went back down into the riff crypt for a few years and only resurfaced when planet earth was ready to hear "Concrescence". Gonga's return is most welcome indeed.



Sweden's dark psyche, doom, sludge kings Monachus released their second album under the name Monachus, after having previously been named Icos. I love all their work whatever they're called but "Below" took their already huge sound and managed to make it huger. The riffs throughout "Below" are of a  truly memorable kind, to the point that any given riff from any song on "Below" sometimes suddenly pops into my head whilst I'm brushing my teeth for instance or holding a door open for an old lady; I hear Monachus' riffs in my mind and then I have to listen to them all day and the next day and the day after that. I get a craving and I need a Monachus fix and my mind won't rest until I get it. Their riffs and their delivery of those riffs and the vocals that are sung and growled so proudly, so encouragingly; they are very pleasing to my doom and sludge addicted ears and that is why "Below" makes it onto my best 10 of '13 list. Monachus take a big leaf out of the books of Isis and Neurosis but there is no mimicry to be heard from these 4 Swedes who have carved their own lasting mark into the great monolith of post metal blended with sludge. There are much howls of triumph throughout "Below" that one cannot help but raise up the arms in celebration. To what, I don't know, but it feels fucking good to do it anyway.




When I first heard Germany's Obelyskkh and their album "Hymn to Pan", I was at first stunned then a little confused. I had never come across Obelyskkh before and I spent a large chunk of time trying to work out why a band and album were so good and how it was possible that I had never heard of them. After a bit of research I discovered that Obelyskkh prefer to stay fairly low-key and they originally intended to never put any of their work to record, but they have and the universe is a better place for it. "Hymn to Pan" is a stunning example of masterfully woven doom and sludge metal that oozes with earthy vibrations and organic melodies. The riffs on display throughout "Hymn to Pan" are towering slabs of solid granite that reach to space and which have their roots deep down in the earth and Obelyskkh play their riffs like they are the legendary pagan warrior kings of yore sounding out a battle cry to defend their lands from the invading Roman hoards. The songs on "Hymn to Pan" are breath taking and full of a raw and heavy power that is up there with the very best of doom and sludge bands that we already know and love. Obelyskkh have shown with "Hymn to Pan" that they can at least equal those big dog bands and then some. I believe "Hymn to Pan" to be a classic in its genre and will be seen as such one day. Obelysskh play their take on the genre with an intention to make it last, to set it in stone and when we are all long gone, "Hymn to Pan" will go down as a true legend in its own right.


"A Black Sea" is the result of a collaboration between dark and sombre folk group Indian Blanket, and black doom metal band The Lion's Daughter, both hailing from St. Louis, MO. What these 2 bands have achieved together is an absolutely perfect fusion of doom and folk into a cohesive single element that is breathtaking in it's brilliance. This is the only release on my list that I did not review as it fell upon my ears right at the tail end of '13 but since then I cannot stop listening to it. I am a fan of folk music in its many forms, and I especially enjoy dark and earthy and psychedelic folk, which there is unfortunately very little to be heard, although there are some rare gems in amongst the inevitable tweeness of most 'dark' folk bands. I have not come across either band before but upon first hearing "A Black Sea", I became an immediate fan of both. On "A Black Sea" The Lion's Daughter & Indian Blanket weave an intricate tapestry of solemn violins, acoustic guitars and tragic words against a huge wall of heart crushing doom riffs, explosive percussion and harsh black metal vocals. It is beautiful to hear and could well be considered a masterpiece of folk doom metal. "A Black Sea" will be a major fixture on my playlist for a long time to come as I doubt I will ever get tired of hearing it. I hope these 2 great bands follow this amazing album with another collaboration sometime in the future.


~*~

2014 is already looking to be another storming year for heavy music with Sleep announcing that they are recording a new album and Electric Wizard vaguely hinting at the release of their next album, this is one doom/stoner/sludge fan who is quite ravenous at the prospect at wrapping my ears around new music from some of my most beloved bands. Lets raise our jugs of ale and bongs and give thanks to the lords of lowend for the heavy gifts which we receive.

Onwards, forwards my friends!






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