Part three of my round-up of the year, and this week it is my albums of the year. Despite my reservations recently that there hadn’t been an awful lot to recommend for 2007, it turns out that there are actually quite a lot.
A very unusual band for Candlelight to sign – they are nothing related to black metal, for a start – but this is an interesting band nonetheless. Difficult to describe what they sound like without mentioning the name Killing Joke, as they really do sound like them (and to make the connection even clearer, Jaz Coleman appears on one of the tracks), but the whole album is infused with an anger about the world around them: including an unusually strong environmental and political sensability.
Key tracks: High Octane Climate Changer, Hallowed By Thy Army, Religion?
In amongst the glut of bad emo bands, it has been great to see the emergence into the public glare of a band that actually play hardcore, rather than simply talking about it. Anthemic, emotional, and riven with fury and self-loathing, and a vocalist that nearly screams himself hoarse across the course of the album, the whole album from start to finish is a reminder that a genre I thought had been left behind is still alive and kicking somewhere. And who’d have thought that “somewhere” would be Watford, eh?
Key tracks: In The Belly Of A Shark, Abandon Ship, Will Someone Shoot That Fucking Snake
As I wrote in my review of this a couple of months ago, this is the record Skinny Puppy should have made instead of the awful Mythmaker. Stuffed with ideas, samples and effects – often all at once – it all works spectacularly well, probably due to the fact that below all the gloss there are some really, really good songs here.
Key Tracks: Don’t Fall Back, Lies, Soul and Substance
I wasn’t going to put this in, as it is strictly a “remix” album…but sod it. In fact, it isn’t really a remix album: you get the original version of the album, in a shiny remastered form, and then a total re-working of the entire album, with new things, re-done things, and otherwise totally re-arranged things. It’s all fucking fantastic, much like the original…
Key Tracks: Sensory Overload, Pro-Dissonance, (Paranoid) Disbelief
The EBM-electro scene’s most curious band, I’d say. No live work, and the artists behind it seem to have developed these strange themes for each album that help to shroud their identities in mystery. Like their previous albums, this is a meticulously constructed piece of work that is best listened to whole, but it is an infinitely more satisfying listen than the previous album, and almost on a par with their debut, it is that good.
Key tracks: Amnesia, Crossroads, Identity
This I really was not expecting. After a few albums that have promised much, but not delivered an awful lot, this album crackles with anger, despair and a whole-barrel-load of fantastic tracks. Much to my surprise, this is the best A23 album since the debut Contempt, and probably the best album of it’s kind this year.
Key tracks: Decades (V2), Ghosts, Binary
Neurosis, no strangers to the dark corners of life, appear to have descended even further into the depths for their latest album. Not only darker, but considerably heavier and more aggressive than their recent releases, they have not compromised their somewhat unique approach and sound one bit. And a good thing, too – this is awesome stuff from a band that have no peers, only followers.
Key tracks: Hidden Faces, Given To The Rising, Water Is Not Enough
It’s about bloody time Tommy Victor got due recognition from all the bands that have, um, borrowed from Prong’s economical and hard-hitting sound over the years, and this might just be the album to do it. Undoubtedly given a pick-up by the current Ministry connections, it also seems to have spurred Tommy and the boys into finally releasing an album that matches their 90s heyday, with all the power, the anger and the groove that it entails.
Key tracks: No Justice, Looking For Them, The Banishment
Taiwanese Symphonic Black Metal is not a sub-genre that I knew existed before this year, but I sure as hell do now. Blowing the doors off at the start of 2007 with this brilliant album, it’s unusual touches (using traditional Taiwanese instruments in amongst the blastbeat chaos, multiple and multi-tracked vocalists, a subject matter somewhat above the usual nihilism…), didn’t detract from the fact that this is how black metal should sound in 2007. In a year of comebacks from some of the big names, that this is the best black metal album of the year is something of a surprise, but also a breath of fresh air.
Key tracks: The Gods Weep, Quasi Putrefaction
The old-timers return with their first album proper in some years, and their recent twentieth anniversary seems to have given them a new lease of life. Rather than the icy electronics of recent releases, this is thoroughly imbued with the ‘rock’. The lyrics are still as poetic and as impenetrable as ever, but that is part of the charm. And even after all these years, there is still no-one that sounds anything like them.
Key tracks: About Time, Super Ready / FragmentÃ©, The Color Code
This band have promised much over the years, but have never really delivered a truly great album – until now. Expanding their industrial-fused-with-black-metal into a far broader sound, the album is so dark it is almost suffocating. And it’s all the better for it. The best moment is probably the furthest from what you expect them to sound like: the astonishing military marching rhythms of Warthemes that explode later in the track into a crescendo that sounds like the sky is falling in.
Key tracks: Antidote, Hole In Me, Warthemes
A late contender into this list, but it was well worth the wait. Another album of impassioned and restrained fury, it is almost impossible to describe Primordial as black metal anymore. Instead, they take elements of Celtic folk music and doom metal and slow the pace down, and stretch the songs out as long as they need. While nothing here has the sheer emotional clout of The Coffin Ships from last album The Gathering Wilderness (although frankly, I’m not sure many bands could scale the emotional heights of that more than once), the album as a whole is another step forward for a band who have long ceased caring about labels and genres, and instead continue to make the music that sounds right to them. As long as it remains this good, I can’t see anyone complaining. Oh, and the limited edition version is even better (both the packaging and the extras).
Key tracks: As Rome Burns, Empire Falls
I’m not even going to try and classify this album: industrial noise-breakcore-drum’n’bass (and a few other descriptions beside) would still be selling it short. An endlessly inventive album, that remarkably at a running time of just shy of an hour still feels short. It’s dark, deep atmosphere makes for a thrillingly, umm, edgy feel to the whole thing, too. And unlike many electronic releases that lose their shine after a while, and you end up picking out the odd track once in a blue moon to listen to, this whole album remains infinitely listenable.
Key tracks: Subterfuge, Frequency War, Dull Blade Shines
After years of languishing in near-mediocrity, Rob Flynn and his band return with one of the best metal albums in years. By not following trends, and just writing the best “metal” that he could, Rob Flynn has surprised everyone and has happily brought everyone – from fans to the press – back onto his side in one fell swoop. An even more impressive feat when you think that the album lasts an hour for just eight songs – of which four of them nudge the ten-minute mark. This is unquestionably the comeback of the year.
Key Tracks: Clenching the Fists of Dissent, Aesthetics of Hate, Wolves
In a year where most of the best albums have been mired in the shadows, telling tales of darkness, it’s kinda ironic that the very best album of this year is a technicolour blast. A band (rather than the usual “electronic artist”) signed to Warp Records, but oddly enough it seems to be a good fit. They are a multi-talented band, with ideas exploding all over the place like brightly-coloured confetti, and despite being ostensibly an instrumental (*whisper it* post-rock?) band there are melodies and hooks on here that some pop bands would kill for. Quite how they can top this is another question, but let’s not worry about that for now, eh?
Key Tracks: Atlas, Tonto, Rainbow