The year's final installment
Agalloch - Marrow of The Spirit
Agalloch has always been a mystery to me. I love them, but they are unlike 99.9% of the other music I hear. I don't much care for black metal, the only groups I listen to being the 'classic' black (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond and Celtic Frost (in certain parts)), but for some reason Agalloch breaks through these barriers. I think it's because I see them more as folk metal, then true black metal. Their albums cross several genres, black, folk, progressive, symphonic, and post-metal have all been attributed to the group. It all fits. Marrow of The Spirit continues on the group's previous style; the songs are mixed with haunting beautiful strings and pianos, ear-shattering thrash, and wailing vocals. It's an experience that is difficult to accurately describe, it is something you will just have to try for yourself. The vocals don't take the main focus of the record, and I think that is another reason why I like Agalloch; they seem to be - at times - another instrument, adding to the layer of sound. The songs are all long, multi-layered and part pieces, with almost everyone changing styles throughout. It's hard to choose favorite tracks, as the songs sometimes fall onto the sword of most long songs; they have good segments, and some not-so-good segments, and while Marrow of The Spirit doesn't have this dragging effect too much, it is still there, taking away from the whole sound. This effect is seen more on the later songs, "Ghosts of the Midwinter Fires" and the final, "To Drown," with the last song, being an instrumental, effected the most. Other then this, there is no complaint. I love this group, and they fall way outside my normal comfort zone - but I always say every genre has a few good bands - and sometimes you need something like that. Go out, get Agalloch, all of the albums, and feel the experience of the group.
Bongripper - Satan Worshiping Doom
Bongripper is an instrumental sludge band (I don't know how you can really call it sludge without any lyrics, but whatever), who falls into the same problems as most instrumental acts: dull songs. For Satan Worshiping Doom, the group decided to only include four tracks for a fifty-three minute album; so as you can guess the songs are long. This is actually a step up from their norm, with every previous album aside one (Hippie Killer) being one, hour-plus, song - sometimes broken up into several parts, sometimes not. So I guess I really shouldn't complain about the song length, but honestly I don't know how (without drugs) people can listen to the same droning sound or melody repeatedly for almost fifteen minutes (this goes for anything atmospheric or drone-doom as well). Satan Worshiping Doom appeared on several people's 'Best of' lists and I guess if you're a fan of the genre I could see why, but it wouldn't make the top 50 for me. I mean the music is decent, and as always there are good segments, but I can barely stand to listen to it all through once, let alone repeatedly over a year. As I said, I'm not the best review of music like this, because I am not a fan of the genre (imagine me reviewing death metal - ugh), but every now and then an instrumental group stands out (Sahara Surfers), and for that reason along, I search amongst the records.
[EDIT]: Ok, I wrote the above and then I actually finished the album. I have to say, it grew on me. Once I stopped trying to listen to it, and let it float to the back of my mind, it began to become enjoyable. I'm still not saying it's an instant classic or anywhere close to top 10, but my first impressions may have been a bit off base.
Nevermore - The Obsidian Conspiracy
Nevermore's early releases. I haven't heard much from them in the 2000s, so The Obsidian Conspiracy will be my first true taste of the second era of the group. What I know of the group (back in their beginnings) is of a thrash band with progressive leanings, from my readings I see that they seem to have tuned back the trash aspects, and moved further and further into the progressive field. It sounds good to me so far, lets actually give it a listen.
Have to say, this is a damn good album. It continues the progressive thrash that has made up the band's history, but this time with a flourish of epic scale progressive elements. These songs are short and quick, not that it's a bad thing, I'm just used to my progressive to have long songs, or an underlying story, not for Nevermore. The Obsidian Conspiracy is all about the music and that is apparent from the first song all the way until the final note dies down, fifty-one minutes later. An interesting observation; a couple of the songs sounded a bit like the late, great, Dio, circa "Don't Talk To Strangers." Again, it's not really good or bad, but the at mid-point of the album I could not help but have that song in the background of my mind.
Stonehelm - Stonehelm
Stonehelm is another stoner/doom band that tries to follow in the footsteps of Electric Wizard or High on Fire, but doesn't contain what makes those bands unique. While there is the decent song occasionally - mostly the instrumentals - the album (and group) are just another generic-sounding band within the saturated genre. I wish I could say more, but honestly I didn't pay that much attention to the album, it not holding my full attention as (I think) it should. One kind of interesting thing is that the vocalist, when he isn't screaming/hollering his lyrics, sounds a bit like Peter Steele (of Type O Negative fame) back when he was in his thrash band Carnivore. I'm not saying Stonehelm is thrash at all, it was just something that popped into my head. Stonehelm is an alright band, not pushing any boundaries or trying to sound like anything new. If you are a die-hard stoner/doom fan then you will probably like them, but they just relied too much on the fuzz, and not enough on substance for me.
Wall of Sleep - When Mountains Roar
Wall of Sleep before, and I know nothing of them, aside that they are a stoner/doom act. This is a tale of my virgin ears to Wall of Sleep, and what they determine the group to be.
I am/was very surprised by When Mountains Roar. I have been listening to so much stoner/doom that I have been getting sick of the genre. I really was in no hurry to hear Wall of Sleep, but now I am in a hurry to hear the rest of their catalog! The album is not stoner by any means, and even the doom is stretched a bit. It's like a classic rock band decided to add the plodding sound of doom to their latest record - a pleasant surprise after so many acts that sounded the same. This album really reminded me of the straight-forward era of metal from the 70s or 80s. It a little reminiscent of NWOBHM American bands that were from this time, but not in the power metal-esq vibe. Power doom metal I guess would be the best way to describe it. I know, I know, I'm doing another crappy job at describing the sound of the act, but cut me some slack; I'm at work, tired and hung-over. You're all lucky you're getting anything from me today, so enjoy what you read and move on.