Following on from parts one and two, here is part three of four in my A-Z 2015 favourites. The same disclaimer applies – these are favourites, not a “best of” list. It’s impossible to keep up with everything that’s released, never mind give it all a fair listen and assessment, but it’s certainly fair to say that, of all the things I’ve heard this year, the records on these lists are what I enjoyed (or not, depending on what the music aims for) the most.
Masada – Demo
Label: Ruined Smile Records
Full review: Link
I imagine it happens to almost everyone: as you get older, the music that felt so vibrant and exciting in your youth starts to feel old and a little stale, no longer holding the same meaning and interest it once had. Such is my feelings towards much punk and hardcore – so important in my youth, but feeling increasingly less relevant and able to hold my attention. Masada are one of the notable exceptions to that general trend, with their demo containing six tracks of Ebullition-style emo laced through with indie rock influences. Tracks such as “untitled 1” clearly recall that golden 90s era of emo, without sounding like a pale imitation of what has come before. Full of energy and movement, the tape is most noteworthy for the honesty and sincerity it puts across, whether it be in the clean vocals during “Indifference”, or the faster sections and emotional build-up on “Quiet”. Few demos hold such promise whilst also sounding like the finished article. Remarkable.
(Side note: I left my copy of the cassette behind at my old house. I’ll update this with a picture of the artwork once I’ve had chance to pick it up. Sorry guys.)
One Master – Reclusive Blasphemy
Label: Eternal Death
Full review: Link
After 13 years dwelling in the underground, One Master have released the album that should see them get the recognition they deserve in the ranks of US Black Metal. Reclusive Blasphemy is a heady trip, showcasing five tracks of black metal that are firmly rooted in the past, but also pushing forwards at the boundaries of what the genre can achieve whilst remaining resolutely “trve”. At one with both the stars above and the ground below, tracks such as “At The Hour Of Saturn” and “A Cursed And Dismal Mind” move through a vast array of black metal styles, taking in everything from punk-inspired sections to gloriously stirring, almost Cascadian guitar lines. Yet it never comes across as restless for the sake of it; the changes flow naturally, and One Master’s, well, mastery of their craft is apparent. The final, title track ends things ominously, beginning with Beherit-inspired claustrophobia and getting no more comfortable from there.
Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
Label: Century Media
At first, the surprise came from realising just how gloriously heavy Paradise Lost could still be when they put their minds to it. Later on, it became clear that The Plague Within was remarkable not just because of the fact that it saw the British veterans embracing heaviness in ways they have not done in years, but in just how good an album it is. “No Hope In Sight” and “Beneath Broken Earth” must surely rank as two of the years best songs, and there are plenty of other highlights to be found here. It’s not all doom misery – “Cry Out” and “Terminal” are reminders that Paradise Lost can still write catchy, anthemic songs, and there is something joyously cathartic and glorious to be found here. Not every track is a complete winner, but I’ve given few albums as many plays this year as I have The Plague Within, and when the album is at its best, it is more than worth its spot on this list.
Seeds In Barren Fields – Let The Earth Be Silent After Ye
Full Review: Link
Black metal is full of nihilistic cliches, with countless bands writing anti-human tracks based upon the supposed glories of war and apocalypse. Seeds In Barren Fields approach their anti-civilization album Let The Earth Be Silent After Ye in much more intelligent, reasoned ways. Approaching the subject from multiple angles – the abuse of religion to, in turn, encourage abuse of others; the environmental damage being unleashed upon the planet in the name of “progress”; the inhuman alienation created as a result of modern, Western society – Let The Earth Be Silent After Ye is both reasoned and emotional. The songs are given plenty of time to unfold, and their length ensures that there is plenty of time to explore the lyrical themes, rather than resort to sloganeering and sound-bites. An album for both the head and the heart, Let The Earth Be Silent After Ye is stunningly ambitious, remarkably successful, and the kind of experience that is sure to stay with the listener long after the songs have stopped playing.
Twilight Fauna – Shadows Of Ancestors
Full Review: Link
Whilst the Bandcamp, Facebook etc. pages for one-man act Twilight Fauna label the band as atmospheric black metal, it makes more sense to me to approach a record like Shadows Of Ancestors as being something closer to folk music. I do not mean that in the sense of modern folk, but in terms of music that is inherently tied to the land and geography from which it originates. Whilst there may be harsh guitars and vocals within this record, the overwhelming feeling is one of space and isolation, of there being something natural – connected to nature – about Shadows Of Ancestors. The use of traditional Appalachian instruments adds to this feeling, and it is all handled with the respect and care it deserves. As such, Shadows Of Ancestors is vastly removed from the corpse-painted, frost-bitten hordes so usually associated with black metal. This is something far grander in scope, a genuine case of black metal as both folk music and art, whilst remaining an incredibly captivating, refreshing listen.