Quigs’ January 2014 music highlights
Well, that was fast. I can’t believe it’s already February 2014! This year has blasted out of the gate like a greyhound chasing a fluffy rabbit. Recently, my real life circumstances have changed a little, which in short, has afforded me a lot of time to listen to new music – more than usual. As such, I’ve listened to more than 60 albums that came out in the last month, and that’s just scratching the surface. One can notice the rise in quality music just from spending a session of randomly browsing Bandcamp artists. Yeah, there’s some rubbish in there, but it doesn’t take too long before you find a diamond in the rough!
Considering that it’s the beginning of February, now is as good a time as any to reflect on the last month of new music and share some of the best stuff that I’ve come across. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this is still in rotation by the year’s end.
Be sure to share your own highlights of the last month in the comments, and tell me what a bum I am for not liking that thing you liked. Without further ado, here are the best albums of January 2014:
Honorable Mention: Humans Etcetera – The Night Used To Be Young
This isn’t really an album I could put in a list of some of the “best” albums of the past month, but it is a peculiar little release that I feel compelled to talk about, much like I continually feel compelled to go back and listen to it when I’m feeling a little introspective.
Over the last month, this album, by multi-instrumentalist (or just mentalist) Christopher Henry, has rolled around my brain quite persistently, making an impression that I find hard to describe. In fact, it’s actually rather difficult to decide why I even like this album. It’s poorly produced, erratic, lacks cohesion and is amateurish at best, and yet, its unpredictable nature is what pulls me in so completely and keeps me interested all throughout. It’s a pure expression of anger, bitterness, and pain, dispensing with any sort of rule book and essentially thrashing out on the instruments to see what comes out. The vocals are mixed terribly, and the music certainly works better as an instrumental, unless he is screaming. Weirdly enough, even though it’s technically a bit shit, Christopher Henry has created a compelling piece of emotional catharsis.
Favourite songs: “The Apple In None Of Our Eyes“, “Mosquito Bite“, “Pillowcase”
15. Hexis – Abalam
This album should come with a warning label. Hailing from Denmark, Hexis smash out of the gate with a savagely hellish maelstrom of sound – the blackened hardcore sonic equivalent of death metal titans, Ulcerate. Musically, Abalam is a deep, murky vortex that may take multiple listens to settle with you.
It’s not particularly profound, but it’s a suffocating experience, one that refuses to release you until the album is finished. Songs are short, and sharp, one sonic rumbling barrage leads ruthlessly into the next, smashing and collapsing against the listener’s brain like waves on a cliff, slightly eroding your endurance with each subsequent slam. Let the raging darkness consume you, and thank me later.
Favorite songs: “Immolabant“, “Exhausit”
14. Leikeli 47 – LK47 II
Regular readers of The Monolith may or may not know that as well as being a rabid consumer of all things metal, I also have a large soft spot for some damn good hip hop. In fact, before I became the metal fanatic most people know and love, I was weaned on 90′s hip hop. In the last few years I’ve rekindled my love for the style, and so while keeping up with the onslaught of metal, I try and regularly dip into rap as well. Sadly, January 2014 yielded more disappointments than pleasant surprises for me, but Leikeli47, a fiery New York based female rapper, was definitely one of the latter.
LK47 II is her second mixtape, which continues the groundwork that she previously laid with her first – it’s a bombastic mix of styles that showcases her versatile talent. The tape begins with the foreboding voice-over of Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, which is a genius way of addressing her masked appearance (“Nobody cared who I was until I put on the mask.”), before violently ripping through 15 diverse tracks, sampling movies, interviews, and even Drake, to surprising effect. Leikeli 47 spits with an abrasiveness and confidence in a world and genre traditionally considered to be male dominated. With tracks like “Miss America” Leikeli addresses this exact gender disparity and the expectations thrust upon her (and others) by society with a level of self-awareness often absent from the majority of hip hop. These attitudes pervade this mixtape entirely, and it makes it a compelling listen.
Favorite songs: “Drums II Clean“, “Heard ‘Em Say“, “Miss America”
13. Warforged – Essence Of The Land
The deathcore label is often seen as extremely limited, but Warforged manage to do more with their debut EP than many bands would even attempt several albums into their career. In short, the progressive deathcore outfit don’t fuck around. This EP is short (under 15 minutes), but the running time is densely packed with percussive brilliance, intricate guitarwork, and a dash of melancholic emotion. As a sum of its parts, it effectively generates a sense of loss and bewilderment, a gap that this ravenous EP attempts to fill.
Warforged fuse a black metal vibe into their sound well; the raspier style of vocals combined with tremolo picking and an evocative use of keyboards all combine to create a superb debut. Let’s hope Warforged can replicate this level of quality across a full album.
Favourite song: “Regurgitate”
12. Alcest – Shelter
Ah, Alcest. The French black metal and shoegaze hybrid darlings have returned. No longer content with swimming in circles through the thick, emotional waters of shoegaze, Neige has taken his trademark sense of poetic melancholy and ecstatic wonder and moved to a completely different pond – this time choosing to express himself through the medium of dream rock.
Shelter is a beautiful album, from beginning to end it envelopes you in a feeling of safety, and security. Of warmth, light, and love. The musical equivalent of curling up next to the fire. In the past, Neige has dwelled in the darkness of life but, while there is an inherent sadness at work here, it is overwhelmed with a euphoric sense of wonder and optimism. This may not have been the Alcest album that fans were hoping for, but Neige has yet again proven himself a master at crafting exquisite, and compelling music.
Favourite songs: “La Nuit Marche Avec Moi“, “Voix Sereines”
11. Mechina – Xenon
I’ve been following the exploits of Mechina since their 2010 release Conqueror. With each year, the band have grown exponentially, both through releasing new music, and revisiting their past. Mechina are a Chicago based, space-themed industrial metal act that have spent the last four years naturally evolving their unique sound. Last year’s Empyrean was a triumphant and liberating space epic with much better production and confidence than on Conqueror, however it still wasn’t perfect. While it made an initial great impression, my love for it waned throughout the year. Xenon, their third release, and the epic conclusion to their narrative concept trilogy is by far the band’s most accomplished effort, taking their sound to an entirely new level.
Xenon is filled to the brim with sweeping orchestral passages, swelling choral sections blended seamlessly with the heavy part of Mechina’s sound that they have previously flirted with. Here, the band craft a heavier, and more mature sound than ever before, with a level of production that finally accurately captures the huge scope that they are aiming for. Joe Tiberi, the band’s main man has advanced his songwriting, composition, and production techniques to create their most cohesive and expansive soundscape yet. As a result, Xenon is an aural adventure of colossal, planet colliding magnitude, and one that should not be missed.
Favourite songs: “Terria“, “Phedra“, “Erebus”
10. God Disease – Abyss Cathedral
Old school death metal is a genre label that I find increasingly difficult to get along with. For those unaware, it’s a descriptor for death metal bands that manage to maintain the aesthetic and values of classic death metal, without sacrificing the quality of the music. Problem is, a lot of these bands are just firmly stuck in the past, and often fail to give me a reason to listen to them over the actual death metal classics.
Which is exactly why I was elated to discover the work of God Disease, a band that blows the cobwebs away from old school death metal and approaches the aesthetic with modern intentions. Abyss Cathedral is only five tracks long, but God Disease do a good job of continuously switching things up, blending elements of mid paced old school death metal, slower, more crushing doom tinged death, and then the more frenetic emotional touches of black metal, with a strong neo-folk influence. Each one of the five tracks has a slightly different feel to it, yet still maintains a strong cohesiveness as a whole.
Favourite songs: “Of Frost And Fear“, “Crush The Believer”
9. Black Knights – Medieval Chamber
Black Knights are a rap group that consists of Wu Tang Clan affiliates The Rugged Monk and Crisis The Sharpshoota. Originally, Holocaust and Doc Doom were also involved, but Holocaust left to pursue his solo material, and Doc Doom was tragically shot and killed back in 2007. Medieval Chamber is their first album since Doom’s death and it is here where we find a heartfelt and compelling tribute to a fallen brother.
Produced by ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Medieval Chamber is a unique blend of styles, presented in the raw, unmastered style that you would expect from classic Wu Tang; spanning an enormous range of influences and dynamics. Clearly, when these three men pool their talents they create a powerhouse classic hip hop album, and a perfect farewell to a fellow rapper veteran.
Favourite songs: “Deja Vu“, “Roundtable”
8. First Reign – Harvest Of Shame
Melodic death metal is a genre of music that many accuse of having died quite some time ago. Every now and again however, bands come along and breathe a little fresh life into the ailing niche. First Reign, hail from the frostbitten wastelands of Canada, but instead of channeling the nation’s favourite musical offering, black metal – they bring a euphoric rendition of melodic death metal.
Harvest Of Shame is effortlessly heavy in places, before quickly changing it up to something more melodic and intricate. It’s a cohesive, flowing experience that offers a plethora of different styles across a range of dynamics. Simply put, there’s always something new to latch onto with each subsequent listen. Our very own writer, Warunki, gave it an incredibly glowing review, in which he said:
“For those who have grown weary of melodic death metal’s seeming stagnation, this is the refreshing and exciting melodeath album that you need to hear this year!”
While I’m reluctant to make any comments about the rest of the year, I can confirm that this is a must listen for melodeath fans.
Favourite songs: “Death With Regret“, “Forged In Fire”
7. Siegewyrm – Harvest Begins
Have you ever avoided listening to a band because you’ve met the person who’s in it and you think they’re a lovely person, and so you shouldn’t listen, just in case you hate it? Yeah, I did that with this band, and now I’m absolutely kicking myself.
Holy shit, Siegewyrm are a great band, but nobody is talking about them! An impressive merging of Amon Amarth inspired battle metal with a fusion of just about everything else across the spectrum of metal. Normally, this more “conventional” style of metal bores me to tears, but there’s an alarming amount of diversity, evenly dispersed throughout the sonic journey that is Harvest Begins.
There’s some cool guest clean vocalists, some glitchy electronics on “The Last One“, a fucking rapper (?!?!) on “Rage“, and of course, my absolute favourite – the bonkers cheesy guitar leads over killer death metal riffs on “Devil’s Dance“. This album is absolute madness, and I fucking love it.
Favourite songs: “Praying For Forgiveness“, “Devil’s Dance“, “The Thornwood Shoreline”
6. Forever Dawn – The Long Journey Home
Industrial black metal is a genre that many attempt, but very few succeed at. Forever Dawn is surprisingly one of the better manifestations of the genre. This impressive one man project has managed to create an incredible blend of sounds – able to conjure not only the pounding drive of danceable industrial music, but also never losing the frostbitten, cold atmosphere so often present in the best and most evocative examples of black metal.
Production wise, The Long Journey Home attempts an ambitious wall of sound production style, something that it is mostly successful at. The drums thunder, and gallop with just the right balance of realism despite their obvious electronic origins. The vocals merge into the background, and due to their raspy, subdued nature, take far more of a backseat role in proceedings. The Long Journey Home is a road swarmed by a pulsing blizzard of electrified ice, and one that is well worth travelling down.
Favourite songs: “The Immensity Of Darkness“, “Siren’s Call“, “Blood For The Blood God”
5. Sianvar – Sianvar
I love finding random gems on Bandcamp. That was my first thought after stumbling upon the majesty of Sianvar. My second was, “Holy shit fuck!” Yes, it’s that good. Sianvar is the new project from Will Swan, lead guitarist and songwriter of Dance Gavin Dance fame. If you’re currently not scrabbling for the play button, then you’re probably dead inside, or more realistically; just not a fan of post hardcore.
With Sianvar, Swan employs a wide range of techniques in their unorthodox mashing of emotive indie rock and passionate post hardcore. It’s like Circa Survive and Los Campesinos had a baby, and then sprinkled a little bit of new Cynic on top for extra flavour. This short, and sweet EP is a must have. Can’t wait to see what these guys will do next.
Favourite songs: “Chest Pressure“, “Sick Machine“, “Your Tongue Ties”
4. Persuader – The Fiction Maze
Confession time: normally, I can’t stand power metal, which is why I can’t believe I’m so enamoured with The Fiction Maze. What’s even more shocking is that it took a Swedish band to kick a genre of music that is traditionally prevalent elsewhere, up the arse. This album is overflowing with hooks, insanely catchy vocal melodies, and a surprisingly sharp edge not often found in the genre. More importantly, Persuader have an extremely welcome sense of self awareness to their music – they’re aware of how ridiculous power metal is by nature, and they wholeheartedly embrace it. It’s insanely liberating, and pitched perfectly.
What’s more, vocalist Jens Carlsson contributes an astounding performance, catapulting him to the breathless heights of power metal legends Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian. In short, try and listen to this album without grinning like an idiot – go on, I double dare you motherfucker.
Favourite songs: “War“, “Son Of Sodom“, “Heathen”
3. We All Die (Laughing) – Thoughtscanning
I’m not usually a fan of particularly long songs, which is why a lot of doom, sludge, and or overly progressive metal tends to lose me along the way. This is why it’s just as surprising to me that I find myself repeatedly listening to We All Die (Laughing)’s new release, Thoughtscanning, which is one 33 minute long progressive death metal epic.
This album/release/song wows me over and over again, for reasons I can’t entirely describe. Perhaps it’s the at times, blisteringly harsh headbanging nature of it, juxtaposed with the protracted softer, heartfelt passages that all coalesce together into a beautiful concoction of pure emotion. By far, the standout element of this odyssey is the contributions of vocalist Arno Strobl whose passionate vocals rip through you whether they’re delivered in the form of mournful singing, or anguish soaked howls. A progressive death metal masterpiece.
Favourite song: “Thoughtscan” Duh!
2. The Isolation Process – The Isolation Process
It was fellow staffer Simon that first turned me onto the musical prowess of The Isolation Process. Considering he also got me interested in my number one pick (more on that in a moment), I probably owe him a blowjob or something. Never mind, we’ll hash that out later.
Where was I? Oh yes, The Isolation Process. At first, I was admittedly apprehensive, especially when album opener “A Simple Gesture” opened with that repetitive, uninteresting riff, with slightly spotty production. My eyebrow was permanently raised, until the sublime vocals of Thomas Henriksson kicked in, at which point, this Scandinavian trio had me by the balls and refused to let go.
The Isolation Process is a soulful album that trudges through sorrow leaden song, riff, passage, and lead after sorrow leaden song, riff, passage, and lead – the whole thing held together by Henriksson’s powerful and gripping voice. There isn’t a staggering amount of original ideas to be found here, and yet, I can’t bring myself to stop listening to this record, or to really care about its flaws. If anything, its imperfections are what make it such a special, and wonderfully affecting record. Bravo.
Favourite songs: “A Simple Gesture“, “Underneath It All“, “Exhale”
1. Centiment – Streets Of Rage
This band is one of a kind. A successfully crowdfunded side project of the McPherson brothers from UK based rock act, InMe, Centiment achieve a sound that many other bands have tried and failed to capture. An ecstatic fusion of technical groove metal and strong gaming inspired electronic bells and whistles creates a surprisingly cohesive and unique experience. Imagine Strapping Young Lad if it copulated with an arcade machine and sprinkled a large amount of melody throughout. The production here is astonishingly well judged and balanced, and the vocal performance of Dave McPherson is absolutely stellar. And Jesus, fuck. The choruses! Huge doesn’t begin to describe it. Simply put, I’m in love with this album.
Don’t just listen to me though, here’s a quote from Simon’s own Monolithic review:
There are no momentum-sapping ballads or interludes to be found here, just fifty three minutes of strong, high energy tunes that carry an infectious sense of fun. Centiment’s heaviness seems to be born not of angst-ridden demon-wrangling, but from an exhilerating adrenaline buzz, similar to the button-mashing frenzy of defeating an end of level boss.
If you only listen to one album from this list, make it this one. I will be stunned if this release doesn’t make it into my year end list, if only because Centiment have started the year off with a damn high bar to beat.
Favourite songs: “Defenders Of Oasis“, “Viktor Frankl“, “Zero Tolerance“, “Mother Nature”
That’s all folks! I already have heard a few strong February albums, and it’s only three days in! Happy listening!