I could have easily spun most of these off into a stand-alone review (as you'll notice in the overall length of the articles), but I am a busy guy, with a lot of music to listen to yet.
Wino - Adrift
Wino's second solo release, as it has become one of my favorites for all year. It's a far change from what the master of all thing doom has ever previously released, coming off as more classic rock then doom or heavy metal. Adrift is a mostly acoustic album, with only the occasional electric guitar solo stopping it from being fully acoustic. These songs are not really metal, and the disc comes off with a very classic rock (circa-1975) feel. Think some good ol' Deep Purple or perhaps some Zeppelin to get what I mean. There are a couple of covers thrown in (Motorhead and Savoy Brown), something I was not expecting, but for the most part it is Wino at his core. I love his gruff voice, his abrupt singing style, and of course his amazing guitar-work. It's amazing what the man can do with an acoustic guitar, usually not something that one would expect to hear truly amazing work from, but Wino delivers! This album is another that I wish I hadn't waited so long in hearing, and it makes me want to go back through this amazing musician's history and re-listen (or listen for the first time) to his entire discography. It is that good.
Howl - Full of Hell
Howl is another one of those sludge bands that puts out some amazing music (at times), but is faulted by the endlessly screaming singer. I do like this album as a whole (including the vocalist), more then my other recent sludge reviews; Clagg and Cough. Because, in Full of Hell, the singer isn't really guttural, and he doesn't shriek, it's in the middle with more of a passionate yell, if you will. It reminds me a bit of Baroness, just not with the full range of styles that the group is known for. It's all the one type of yelling, but it's semi-understandable, and it isn't horrible so I can deal. As I said the music is pretty good, coming off more as thrash or NWOAHM then anything doom or stoner (which is my definition of sludge, but the times, they are a changin'), but I do like some acts within this style, and Howl is easily one of them. Other then that, there isn't a whole lot to say, with me not being a big purveyor of this new age of sludge (man I'd like to coin this fork in the sludge family tree). I'm sure I'll get some heat from this one, as I've been getting with some of my other sludge reviews (oh well who are you without some hate mail?), because it is such a well-loved album. It's just not my sauce, and I am fine in admitting that.
Cathedral - The Guessing Game
Cathedral I have heard has been their first two or three albums, back when they were truly doom. Somewhere around their third album, The Carnival Bizarre, they changed styles into something else. I haven't heard past that change, having liked their doom style, and with no interest in the new, but after a decade and a half, I figure it's time to give it another try. The first thing I have to get across is that The Guessing Game comes off as two different albums, with styles to match. After listening to the album I realized it is a double disc release and that makes sense really, with the great range of styles heard here. The majority of the first disc is not doom, not stoner, not really classifiable. It is almost a simplistic, folky, heavy metal record. On almost every song it sounds like the singer is just talking the lyrics in a rhyming fashion; the music song to song is very disjointed, and the songs themselves are mixes of empty sounding music with vocals over-top or eclectic acoustic guitar and bass segments. If it was only this one album as a release I would have been very disappointed, with the songs (besides a handful) not really being what I would call 'musical.' Some of the songs are ok; "Painting in the Dark," and "Death of an Anarchist" are both listenable (if a bit long), with the song "Cats, Incense, Candles and Wine" being the stand-out. The interesting thing is, that as the release switches albums, so does the style of song. It goes from this almost-unexplainable rock into something more akin to classic Cathedral - doom. The second disc is almost entirely doom, with the occasional quick rocker thrown in for good measure. This is the disc you need to hear; most of the songs being damn good. As I said above, when I listened to The Guessing Game I did not originally know that there were two discs, and I was puzzled with this sudden shift. With the inclusion of a second 'story' (if you will), the full picture is easier to take in. While I wouldn't call this new album from the legendary Cathedral really great, it does hold some interesting points. I would suggest picking it up solely for the second disc, but you will need to hear the first - at least once - to understand what I mean; and honestly to hear something that treads the line between good and strange.
Electric Wizard - Black Masses
Electric Wizard fan, the couple of albums I have heard haven't impressed me too much, but Black Masses is something different. The only other releases I have heard from the group are their self-titled debut, and their EP/single Chrono.naut, and while I found Electric Wizard (album) to be alright, I did not like Chrono.naut, and I guess I've never really gone back to give them another shot. I think now I may have to now. Anyway, Black Masses has made it on every person's (just about) Top of 2010 list, and although I don't see that being a case for me (who knows, I haven't finished the album completely yet), it mill definitely be an Honorable Mention of some kind. While the music is great - it is doom metal with constantly fuzz-driven guitars - the songs themselves tend to become very difficult to distinguish one from the other. The first four songs of the album all sound pretty damn similar, and if there wasn't a slight quiet bit between the songs I would have no clue where one begins and another ends. The fifth track "Satyr IX" was the first songs to mix it up; so sound like something different, which then when it returned to the previous style song, "Turn Off Your Mind," it sounded a bit more fresh. This is a minor gripe, as all of the songs do make me want to crawl into a whole and die (as any good doom metal should), I just like some variety, which is why songs like "Satyr IX" will stand out in my memory. Again a great album, nearly every song on it is something I could rock out to repeatedly. I would just like a little more variance (even a little change is doom is noticeable) in the song styles. Once the new year starts I'll have some free time to go back and listen to all of the great acts I have missed, Electric Wizard will be one of them.
High On Fire - Snakes For The Divine
High On Fire (as I'm sure many of you know) is another godfather of the stoner/doom movement. My personal knowledge of this band is a bit limited; the only experience I have with them is their 2007 release, Death Is This Communion, although I probably haven't heard it sense it first came out. So even though I have heard them before, it's been so long that I only have a vague recollection of their sound and style - besides the random songs I have heard over the year (I'm actually listening to "Bastard Samurai" right now, and I not only remember it, it is a kick-ass song) - so my review of Snakes For The Divine is almost as if I am completely new to the band. That's the way I like to review; for the first time/listen. First impression: Fuck yes! This is an amazing band/album! The first track (and title track) begins by punching you in the sonic gonads from the get-go and doesn't stop throughout the record. While "Snakes For The Divine" didn't hold my 'wow' factor for the whole song, every track after that one has been superb. The aforementioned, "Bastard Samurai," is a straight doom rocker, while the following track, "Ghost Neck," picks up the temp and shoves it down your throat. These songs are immediately followed by the instrumental "The Path" which does a great job of acting as a pallet cleanser for your ears, before juicing it all back up for the rest of the album. Seriously this is some good shit. To me, this album should be taking the place of Electric Wizard on everyones Best of 2010 list. Same genre and localized style, but Snakes For The Divine offers so much more!