It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the end of another year packed tighter than Joey de Maio’s loincloth with incredible genre-pushing, eardrum-violating, neckache-inducing metal.
So we can begin to tell the story of a year which saw us give more top marks than any other year so far (and more 2’s and 3’s out of 10, too!), a year that left us inundated with so many great releases, we sought the opinions of our esteemed and respected writing team and we offer forth their albums of the year.
The countdown to the Official Ghost Cult Magazine Album of the Year for 2014 has commenced. Please consume and enjoy the results of our 2014 Writers’ Poll. We hope it will introduce you to some of the incredible works of art you may have missed that we have had the immense pleasure of listening to and writing about this year.
In our first installment we bring you albums 50 through to 41.
50. HARK – Crystalline (Season of Mist)
Genre-bending aggression with doses of Doom, Prog, Psychedelia and Hardcore. Heavy as a very heavy thing.
49. THE HAUNTED – Exit Wounds (Century Media)
“The album is filled with urgency and manages to be relentlessly heavy without compromising on those insanely catchy riffs. The Haunted have come back stronger than ever… easily the band’s best effort a decade” DAN SWINHOE 9/10 Full review here
48. THE WOUNDED KINGS – Consolamentum (Candlelight)
“Favouring lengthy yet subtly evolving guitar workouts that never lapse into repetitive dirge territory,The Wounded Kings go about working their dark, smoky magic with grim elegance… Simply put, The Wounded Kings are the quintessential English doom band “ JAMES CONWAY 8.5/10 Full review here
47. SCHAMMASCH – Contradiction (Prosthetic)
“The quality of this album is obvious right from the beginning. Schammasch have created a record both challenging and endlessly refreshing, a truly remarkable sonic journey from beginning to end.” CAITLIN SMITH 9/10 Full review here
46. AUTOPSY – Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves (Peaceville)
“Tourniquets… continues in gnarly, raw and near sludgy death metal vein, but maintains their run of high quality and in fact tops anything that has come from their return.” CHRIS TIPPELL 8/10 Full review here
45. KROKODIL – Nachash (Spinefarm)
“With a heavy dose of Mastodon in its veins, Krokodil are a groove juggernaut that pummels all in its path with its three guitarists of fury” DAN O’BRIEN 9/10 Full review here
44. INTER ARMA – The Cavern (Relapse)
“The sheer gravity and fulminating power of much of the music here is oppressive yet it carries the weight easily, this blend of raw animal force, aching melody and immeasurable creativity marks out this fantastic band” PAUL QUINN 10/10 Full review here
43. DEVIL YOU KNOW – The Beauty of Destruction (Nuclear Blast)
“(with) all the promise of a powerhouse, and it delivers on all fronts. The songs are well-crafted, nicely developed and excellently executed.” LYNN JORDAN 9.5/10 APRIL ALBUM OF THE MONTH Full review here
42.BLUES PILLS – Blues Pills (Nuclear Blast)
“…a record that understands and curates its heritage and lineage but is fresh, contemporary and massively memorable. This is the record that you’ll be recommending to your friends for months to come” MAT DAVIES 9/10 Full review here
Continuing their rise in the US as one of the best new post-rock/gaze/post-punk bands of recent memory, Nothing will storm the shores of Europe this Fall, playing dates in the UK, Italy, Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and return to the Netherlands. This return to European soil follows their acclaimed turn at this past April’s Roadburn Festival with a performance that left tongues wagging and mouths agape.
Nothing released Guilty of Everything on Relapse in March. Surely to mark year-end best of lists in 2014, Nothing has been universally hailed as a new hope in modern, heavy music, Ghost Cult’s own scribe Tiago Moreira raved in his review of Guilty…, referencing the best in post-metal, shoegaze, and even some legit comparisons to Nirvana:
“The high levels of energy are a constant throughout these ten tracks. Jesu, My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins, Slowdive can be influences, but they don’t restrain Nothing’s freedom, not even for one second….You just need to pay attention and let the repeat button do his job. In the end I can promise you this: the music and lyrics on Guilty of Everything will make a huge impact on you. You will not explore Nothing’s music, you will explore yourself.”
Front man, Domenic “Nicky” Palermo commented: “Can’t wait to get out of the United States for a while and come visit Europe. I hope someone takes me in so I never have to go back home.”
Psalm Zero is the last offering of the Canadian label Profound Lore Records and, once again, they hit the nail in the head (please do not forget about the amazing Artificial Brain’sLabyrinth Constellation that was also released by the label). This time around with Psalm Zero, a project that unites two great musicians and artists: Charlie Looker (Extra Life and Zs) and Andrew Hock (Castevet). Two musicians, two artists that have pushed the boundaries and delivered art of higher level. More often than we would like to admit, projects with members of known bands (if you don’t know them it’s your problem) fail because the members of those projects are afraid of facing with each-others style, influences and artistic output. Well, that doesn’t happen with Psalm Zero. With their debut full-length album The Drain, they face each other and there’s an enormous clash which makes the album such an enormous piece.
The first thing to make an impression on the listener its how the harsh vocals of Andrew Hock face the beautiful, overly dramatic – just imagine Morrissey (The Smiths) singing on and old, beautiful and huge cathedral and you will have an idea how profound, romantic and heartbreaking Hock’s vocals are – making a game of power sometimes and other times just a simple and incredible beautiful harmony like if they were meant to be together. The other thing is the all atmosphere of the record: perhaps the best description is post-punk industrialized that operates in this all spectrum of melancholy being sometimes just mournful other times just fuckin’ heavy with nothing on its mind other that pure and utterly rage. Seven songs and a record with just thirty eight minutes of running time, The Drain is an incredible and amazing introduction into their universe. There have been a lot of projects lately that are based on the 80s post-punk sonority, Psalm Zero are just one of most, if not the most, interesting projects of them all. Another pearl at the end of the ocean. Addictive and exciting.
This one-man metal project that we know as Woods of Desolation comes from the intriguing mind of D., the Australian musician that has been playing an undeniable important role on the Down Under’s underground scene not only with his current project Woods of Desolation, but also with Forest Mysticism and Grey Waters. The road that was started with depressive black metal (the highest point being the debut full-length released in 2008, Toward The Depths) suffered what we can call a big change with the injection of shoegaze and more ethereal environments and soundscapes with Woods of Desolation’s sophomore album, Torn Beyond Reason (released in 2011). Three years after we have the third album which mixes the sounds of Forest Mysticism with the sounds of Grey Waters. It sort of works as a full circle for D., the musician in charge of this new album, As The Stars (Northern Silence Productions). With the help of Vlad from the mighty Ukrainian band Drudkh and the countrymen Luke Mills on bass (Nazxul) and Old on vocal duties (Pestilential Shadows). Having the support and help of other musicians was probably what made this album be so damn rich in terms of guitar layers and tones. Every single track seems to take advantage of D.’s guitar work to levitate and finally rise in a spiral movement that is too fuckin’ strong to be stopped.
As Michael Gira (Swans) once told me, the main goal must be to achieve ecstasy. Well, As The Stars doesn’t have a problem achieving ecstasy, but rather a problem to let it go. Like a fuckin’ junkie never satisfied, Woods’ music on this new album is constantly trying to exceed itself. What once was depressive now it seems to be uplifting and hopeful towards positivity. But who really knows? It’s really hard to tell when you’re so fuckin’ high for almost thirty eight minutes and you’re not allowed to stop. Hopefully this album, and this band, will have the due credit and recognition. If you like stuff like Alcest, Lantlôs and Deafheaven… Why the hell would you not give a chance to Woods of Desolation? Don’t be afraid. Jump!
There is always the possibility of someone that is reading this piece and doesn’t know Swans at all, or doesn’t know Swans very well so allow me to speak about them for a while. This band founded by Michael Gira, the undeniable leader, was founded in 1982 and they are one of the most brilliant, relevant and influential bands of these last thirty years. There’s no space for discussing. It is what it is. They returned back in 2010 after a huge hiatus of twelve years (from 1997 to 2009) with My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky (Young God) in 2010. Many people were expecting something that is normal to happen when a legendary and cult band like Swans returns to business: a failed attempt to recapture the golden age. Those people were not paying attention because Michael Gira was never a man of walking on the nostalgic and old-time lane. Swans’ career was always a fight to push forward, never stay the same and considerable moments of non-conformity through an ongoing desire of not being comfortable. Always on the run, never stopping to nest. The Seer (Young God), the second Swans’ album after their glorious return, was the undeniable slap in the face (I took it and I’m proud of it) with the bold move to create an epopee that scratched the two hours mark. You need to have some balls to deliver something with two hours in 2012 – I want to remember you that most bands have problems creating something half-good for forty minutes. They did it. They had success because it was an intense, interesting and compelling piece.
If you need to have balls to release a two-hour long record in 2012, imagine releasing another two long record in 2014. To Be Kind (Young God), the new Swans album, is another epopee and once again they have succeed on the mission of delivering something that is always hitting the nail in the head, cutting all the fat (they had music for more than two hours, believe it or not) and working their way through pure moments of ecstasy. They use repetition to progress. They use the dynamics just to hit harder. They use soft sounds just because you need to know that there’s always calm before the storm. They are fuckin’ genius. What more can I say? I don’t dare talking about tracks because this to me is just one track two hours long, one track that is exciting from the very first second to very last one. They have created another masterpiece. Michael Gira’s artistic endeavor is capable of reignite the flame of ours hearts and wash our souls. Don’t know if we deserve what Gira has delivered in all these years. I know that I just want to say after listening To Be Kind: thank you!
It wasn’t easy to get a hold of Dominic ‘Nicky’ Palermo. If I’m not mistaken it took something like three attempts to interview the founder, guitarist and vocalist of Nothing. Well, shit happens. No big deal when you’re dealing with a dude that’s not an asshole (sometimes an asshole can be described as a rockstar, FYI). Anyway, I had the pleasure of talking with Palermo about Nothing, their debut album, Guilty of Everything (Relapse), and everything that surrounds this world where literature is as important as punk rock music, loud guitars and shit loads of reverb.
“It started with me, just me, and then I putted some people together to help me record the demo [titled Poshlost]. Shortly after the demo I met Brandon [Setta, guitar and vocals] and we started to write music together and in between of what we have now and then, it’s gone through probably twenty people. But everything is really tight now. Finally, after three years, I found a couple of people that are decent human beings and fine musicians”, starts Nicky, the who founded Nothing back in 2011. Going back to those times where Nothing was just kind of an idea he continues, “Even during the days of Horror Show… I always wanted a project like this. But I was young and impatient. I didn’t have the necessary tools to build it.“ Yeah, one might think that Nothing is just this band with loads of hype, created like six months ago to proceed in this music business with pure swings of luck. It isn’t the case. Sorry! Not only was hard to create this entity and find the right people but there’s even the fact of Palermo’s past experiences. Horror Show, Palermo’s previous band, a hardcore punk outfit that was described, by Deathwish (who released two Horror Show’s 7” EPs – Our Design and The Holiday) as a band that “truly lived the pain of their songs every day”.
“It’s an inspiring place, nonetheless. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be but if you are able to come out of something like that you come inspired by it, for sure”, explains Palermo about his experience post-Horror Show and pre-Nothing. No matter who you are, being incarcerated will ways have a profound impact on you and put things in perspective. Palermo is no different and this period of his life helped to shape this entity that we know as being Nothing.
When asked him about the impact of Emil Cioran’s book, The Trouble With Being Born, on him, Palermo went into great detail:
“On Downward Years To Come [a five song EP] every song was specifically about one writer that took his own life. They’re all really relevant to me. These writers got me through some of the worst times of my life, and they have been along with me for some of the better times too. They were my only friends for a while, when I was incarcerated, and they put it all out there. There’s so much pain… Richard Brautigan and Sylvia Plath, they help me and it feels like I owe something to them. I wanted to do a record dedicated to them, pretty much“.
But going back to more practical things, how much of struggle it’s for this band to write music? An obvious question for everyone that had the pleasure of listen the music and read the lyrics.
“We write songs pretty consistently. Brandon doesn’t work and he just sleeps on my couch at my apartment all the time. We usually just sit around all day with our guitar in our hands constantly. We hear a riff that one of us is playing over and over again before we decide that we should take that riff and start making an actual song. It’s kind of like, when we’re ready to record it’s when we really start to digging in and we try to turn those riffs, those ideas into songs.”
On Guilty of Everything, the debut full length of this quartet from Philadelphia, it’s almost tangible the evolution they achieved since releasing their first EP, Downward Years To Come. “Why bother creating new things if they are just a pure stagnant with no progress whatsoever? We always try to better ourselves with music”. Sure, Jeff Ziegler was an important piece on Nothing’s evolution, but the band shows an urgency of staying on the run like if someone would shoot them in the head in case they stop and get too comfortable.
With the progress of this conversation we reach a turning point where things start to be a little bit clearer. It starts with an innocent question: why this title?
“We were thinking about what we were doing with the record and at that time, actually before even record it… I was reading a book called “Guilty of Everything” by Herbert Huncke. Herbert Huncke is a writer, a criminal and a drug addicted living in New York. Basically is a part of the group of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, etc.”, says Palermo, talking about the group of writers known to be a part of The Beat Generation, a group of American post-World War II writers that were writing about this “culture” of the outsider (the rejection of social standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, etc.).
“They met all in New York and he [Huncke] really turned them on into drugs, crime and everything. That pushed them to opening up to the world, which made them like the elite writers of that generation [1950s]. I know that a lot of people don’t know about these writers. It’s nice to give a nod to what inspires you and what inspired something. Sometimes those people get hidden in the past and they never get recognized.“
That explains a whole lot. First it gives the needed space to clarify why they signed with a metal label like Relapse – “We play shows with punk bands, with hardcore bands, indie rocks bands, etc. We’ve never really fit in necessarily anyway” – then allow us to ask about their use of drugs while recording Guilty of Everything. “This was not the first time that we record music while under the effect of performance enhancing drugs. Usually we use all kind of different drugs but this time around we were so heavily stuck into the studio working, like ten hours per day. We were taking adderall at the time. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the drug but it’s a prescription drug for people who have ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]… we probably have it anyway. Basically it makes you insanely obsessed with whatever you are doing, and makes it impossible to sleep.”
It seems that there’s almost an obsession with misery. All these stories and the fact of Palermo’s lyrics are so fuckin’ dark and bleak makes us wonder if he sees himself as being a nihilistic person. “No, but I have an almost kind of hatred for human life. It’s disgusting what we are, what we do and what we think that we’re here to do. It’s just dark and depressing. I’m here; I’m designed to be as anybody else but even as aware as I am about all these things, I still get out of bed everyday… I don’t want to, all the time, but I’m like everyone else, you know? I’m not superior in any way. But yeah, I think about how fucking horrible we are as a race. I don’t want to bring a child into this world. It’s funny, there are children out there, at this point, that don’t even have a fuckin’ home. It’s selfish to bring another person out of like a seemingly peaceful to this place where we are basically doomed” says Palermo. But, what about these problems of today like the Edward Snowden’s case (surveillance) and the Russia-Ukraine thing? “I don’t really pay attention but it’s kind of hard to miss those kind of things. I mean, it’s just something completely expected. We do the same things over and over again. Eventually this will come to an end and the world will just do a restart of sorts, you know? Everything comes full circle again. We can take all we want but there’s no stopping what is coming from us.”
Funny to see how much of Kurt Cobain is in Palermo… I mean, not only Nothing is punk as fuck, just like Nirvana, but it seems that it goes beyond when we see that Palermo shares some views that Cobain always confessed so publicly. But there’s one more thing: Nothing, just like Nirvana, loves to play live. How much of a problem is to want to destroy eardrums? The relationship between them and the sound guys must be wonderful. “It will be easier to deal with it over here [U.S.A.] than where you’re at [Europe]. I heard that over there they have like a 100 decibel limit… it’s never gonna work out. We don’t have issues with sound guys. I have issues with assholes. We work with a sound guy last night, in Birmingham, Alabama, and he was great. He was so attentive and he cared about his job. It is tough when you walk into a venue where there’s some guy that gets paid 30 dollars and doesn’t wanna be there and doesn’t care about the band… Sometimes that guy feels even offended by what the bands asks, mostly because the band is asking something that’s different. That’s an asshole, that’s not a sound guy”.
Metal, in general, is as vital today as it has in the 80s. Sure, the impact of one record today is not as considerable, but nonetheless vital. Every year we see artists coming with music that makes our hair stand up on the back of our neck, and the impact of such grandiose pieces of art that don’t affect only the metal scene but other scenes as well. Lately it has been the black metal genre getting “all” the recognition, winning fans like Marissa Nadler, Chelsea Wolfe or even the legendary Thurston Moore (a member of the super-group Twilight for their final album). Metal as a whole is vital. Period. But there’s always the underdog thing when comes to metal. In this case death metal is the big underdog. Just like a bud of mine said a few years ago: “These are some of the most brilliant times for death metal. Unfortunately we will need 20 years to take proper notice”. Sonne Adam’s Transformation, Teitanblood’s Seven Chalices, Ævangelist’s De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulis, Portal’s Swarth, Mitochondrion’s Parasignosis, and many more. Brilliant records that were released just in the last five years. Impressive? Told ya.
Let’s add another name to our little list: Artificial Brain’s debut album, Labyrinth Constellation (Profound Lore). That’s right, the band formed by Revocation’s guitarist Dan Gargiulo and ex-Biolich vocalist Will Smith has released a monster of an album. Technical death metal with sci-fi themes, a description that doesn’t cover, not even for a moment, all the greatness of this album and the music contained in it. Well, technical death metal – let’s just say technical musical in general – tends to be a dangerous game where wankers are the kings and boredom is the only color of a shitty painting. Not this time. The most impressive thing is to hear and feel how well-thought this album is. How every detail is folded into a single unit making the album coherent and, at the same time, diversified. With an old-school approach the quintet from New York “reworks” death metal, offering dissonance through uncanny atmospheres, tremendous moments of abrasiveness and an album that breath with all the dynamics presented. The melody and weird atmosphere created by the guitar while the madness of death metal is on full mode is probably the biggest highlight of this album. Songs like ‘Absorbing Black Ignition’, where that contrast is for the first time evident, and ‘Worm Harvester’, where the band shifts gears without losing any sense of purpose or brilliance, are some of the moments that standout in an album that will make the year of any extreme metal fan. Brilliant, utterly amazing, breath-taking and challenging from the first to the last second.