Monday, March 25, 2013

96 - Caught in the Grips

After spending most days listening to sludge, doom, black metal and variations thereof, the exuberance of a band like 96 is a welcome kick in the pants. With their album Caught in The Grips, these Jersey boys inject a high octane shot of adrenaline to get your ass moving.
Slinging 13 tracks in 22 minutes, 96 employ the smash-and-grab technique; maximizing effectiveness and minimizing waste. It’s best to describe 96 as hardcore punk. They bring a harder edge to straight up punk as with hardcore, but lack the kind of anger found in today’s hardcore bands (not a bad thing). Their mosh-ready tunes are littered with killer riffs played with a controlled looseness. Tight performance with great feel. Whether full-speed ahead or bouncing in mid-pace, Caught in the Grips will keep you on the go.
96 manage to take a template rooted in the old school and keep it fresh. One can hear sounds that remind of Biohazard, Sick of it All, Madball and DRI without sounding like ripoffs. The result is an album that has a classic familiarity without sounding dated.
Gang shouts are sparse but well timed while Corey Donohue’s vocals have a very crossover feel infused with snarl and even some tongue-in-cheek lyrics (as referenced by a song about iced tea).96 are packed with enthusiasm, tearing through Caught in the Grips barely leaving room to catch a breath. Infectious energy, outstanding riffs and some fuck-yeah solos come together to make 96 a mosh pit wrecking crew. Go ahead, get Caught in the Grips.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Xul - Malignance

It never ceases to amaze me how much metal talent there is between these Canadian borders. From the Diminished Fifth roster in the East straight through to Vancouver’s Anciients in the West, top quality metal litters the map at all points in between. A heavyweight representing the left coast is Vernon, BC’s XUL. Their album Malignance dropped last year and it’s a shame I’m only hearing it now.

Malignance is a fitting title for the eight tracks of death metal madness within, because this is anything but benign. Xul’s articulate and speedball riffs leave a trail of black smoke in their wake, darkening the skies in a carcinogenic pall. Absolute demoncy befits the scowling vocals of Levi Meyers plastering bile over the frenetic guitar work of Wallace Hoffman and Bill Ferguson (also contributing vocals). The rhythm section of Lowell Winters (drums) and Marlow Dieter (bass) spur the beast forward with nimble fingers and supernatural speed. These entities coalesce to embody the darkened horde of blackened death metal of tracks such as “Mastication of Putrescent Empyrean Remains” and “Incinerate the Earth”. Fusing the malevolence and grime of death metal with the flair and urgency of thrash and the scorching hate of black metal, Malignance beats with a heart as cold as night.

Malignance features a stunning display of musicianship with its ultra-slick leads, hyperspeed percussion and incredible bass tone. Meyers’s fetid vocals salivating on the album’s rotting body ties the whole gruesome scene together. Xul wreak “Vengeance” on the ears of death metal fans, forcing their way in the cortex to fester and boil. This is one Malignance you’ll be dying to have.

Pay What You Want download at


From the first time I heard BURN from Toronto's Titan I knew it was going to be my Album of the Year. Sometimes when you hear an album the connection is instantaneous. It becomes part of you. That's what happened here. Titan's blend of hardcore, doom, sludge and black metal is the very definition of powerful. Intense performances, interesting lyrics, impeccable musicianship and top notch production combine in sonic glory on BURN. The clear choice of 2012 Album of the Year.

For more thoughts on why.....
Have a look at my (rather extensive) review of BURN here.
I interviewed vocalist James M. and guitarist Chris W. here.

AOTY #2: Pallbearer - Sorrow & Extinction

No album had the kind of widespread impact on the metal community as Pallbearer's Sorrow & Extinction. Fawned over by critics across the board, S&E found it's way onto just about every end of year list. And it's certainly deserving of the praise. One could even go so far as to call it an instant doom classic. Cleanliness is next to godliness they say, making Pallbearer worthy of worship with clean vocals evoking the deepest of sorrow from the listener. Cleanly picked guitar compliments the deep doom dirges as well with such clarity of vision and execution as to make one wonder how the band could possibly follow up this incredible full length debut. Sorrow & Extinction is a monumentally powerful album sure to stand the test of time and stand as a benchmark for the doom genre as a whole.

AOTY #3: Woods of Ypres - Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light

The circustances regarding the release of Woods 5 are most tragic. Mastermind and frontman David Gold was killed in a traffic accident mere weeks before the album's release, leaving the metal community (especially the Canadian one) in shock. Woods 4 could be considered WoY's breakout album and landed them a deal with Earache. Yet just as Gold's songwriting skill was finally getting the recognition it deserved, fate intervened. Such a cruel twist.
What was to become Woods of Ypres's swansong was, in my opinion, the most emotionally charged album released all year regardless of the posthumous situation. GS&EL's heavily gothic tinged black metal is beautifully crafted for maximum emotional impact; its hooks pulling the listener in close. Gold's lyrics centered around mortality and death are quite gripping and thought provoking yet made all the more real (and at times prophetic) by Gold's early departure from this cruel world. I am not ashamed to admit that Woods 5 brought tears to my eyes almost every single time I listened to it. Woods 5 would most definitely sit at the same position on this list were Gold still with us, but his legacy strengthens the album to legendary proportions. One can only hope David has found the peace in death he never found in life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

AOTY #4: Krallice - Years Past Matter

In 2011, Krallice took home top honours of my AOTY list with their album Diotima. Krallice came right back with their self-released Years Past Matter. The new release is no less deserving of the highest honour I can bestow upon an album but the top 3 are also very very deserving. I listened to YPM a couple weeks ago in bed. As captivating as it is in any circumstance, enjoying the album in a completely distraction-free environment is a totally different experience. With undivided attention and relinquished of other stimuli, the myriad textures, shades and intricacies dissolve within each other in perfect solution. A homogeneous mixture of the brilliant musician ship found in the band. Krallice is modern black metal at its very finest.

Monday, March 11, 2013

AOTY #5: Bison B.C. - Lovelessness

One of my biggest regrets in life was not going to see Bison BC play a living room show on my 30th birthday. Okay, maybe not but that would have been the best birthday party ever!! Well, the semi-surprise party I had instead was pretty frickin' rad too. Riding an electric Vespa around the streets drunk in the middle of the night? Ya that was cool. Anyway, I wrote about Lovelessness for

Sunday, March 10, 2013

AOTY #6: Ash Borer - Cold of Ages

Whenever I listen to Ash Borer there is only one thing I want to do, and that is nothing. I just want to be. And let the sound wash over me, lift me. Raise this crude form beyond the earthly realm. Lift me to a place where all that exists is sound, colour and feeling. Fear, anguish, desperation, anger, melancholy. Beauty, hope, determination. Ash Borer's brilliant use of texture, layers and atmospherics on Cold of Ages is stratospheric. Haunting vocals low in the mix howl like spectres reaching out from beyond the grave.
Ash Borer are reaching for the top of the US Black Metal pile. If they continue to progress at the rate they have been and release material with such quality on a torrid pace (a split, EP and two LPs in less than two years) there's no telling what kind of legend they will bring upon themselves, whether they want it or not.

AOTY #7: High On Fire - De Vermis Mysteriis

It's fucking High On Fire. Theses guys could put out an album of themselves chewing their Corn Flakes and it would be awesome. It's a shame Matt Pike had to go into rehab, preventing the band from properly hitting the road to promote the album but in the long run, it's what is best for all concerned. Especially Pike. De Vermis Mysteriis, a concept album about Jesus's evil twin, is HoF doing what HoF do best. Des Kensel's abusive percussion, Jeff Matz's thick, rumbling bass and Pike's incomparable riffing and gravel-throated holler is a recipe that turns out perfect every time.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

AOTY #8: Cattle Decapitation - Monolith of Inhumanity

I really should not have to explain why Cattle Decapitation's Monolith of Inhumanity is worthy of making #8 on this list. Monolith is an incredibly brutal display of top flight musicianship packaged as an absolutely vicious goregrind/death metal epitaph to all that makes this such a fucked up world. Especially people. Not to overshadow the contributions of the other members  but Travis Ryan is one monster of a vocalist. His howls and growls, shrieks and indescribable utterances go from one to the other in the blink of an eye. And it's not studio magic. I've seen him do it. Legendary. Monolith sees Cattle Decap at their most volatile and shocking yet. (Have you seen the video for "Forced Gender Reassignment?) It's kind of ironic for vegetarians but most animals are better than most people.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

AOTY #9: Bosse-De-Nage - III

This San Francisco group came out of virtually nowhere to captivate me almost beyond words. I tried to put my thoughts about Bosse-De-Nage's III into words for months but every time I listened to it I became overwhelmed by the raw emotion pouring from the album. I kept getting this vision of the band in a coffee house performing with all their heart as the seated assembly merely soaked in the experience like a piece of art. Or a poetry reading. I supposed the fact the lyrics read more like an essay than black metal lyrics aids that visual. I even referred to the sound as Coffee House Black Metal. III is such an emotionally charged album but in a very nontraditional way. I just wish it hadn't taken me this long to discover them.

AOTY #10: Vilipend - Inamorata

I'm not sure what more I can say about Vilipend's full length debut, Inamorata.
I reviewed the album here. (Probably my best written review of the year.)
I interviewed guitarist Derek Del Vecchio here.
And I wrote the blurb for their inclusion on Hellbound's Top 10 Canadian releases here.
It's fuckin' great.

Friday, March 1, 2013

EP of the Year: Wilt - Wilt EP

At first I thought Winnipeg was an unlikely place to find an atmospheric black metal band. But upon further reflection it actually couldn't be a more perfect place. Where the wild forests of Northern Ontario meet the frigid and bleak expanse of the Prairies, seems like a fitting inspiration for bands such as this. Wilt's self-titled EP comes drenched in a fog of grimness over an overflowing river of despair. While the vocals sound underworldly, melodies cascade across icy soundscapes and the organic drums beat with the lifeforce emanating from the natural world. A distinct aura of reverence and respect for nature envelopes the listener in a wash of warm tones and lilting rhythms.
That is not to say the EP feels like a celebration. It feels more like a funeral. A reflection on what once was. Anguish apparent in the black metal rasps. Wilt peel back the layers of the subconscious with hypnotic repetition, suffusing the mind with dark and ancient energies. Their bleak vision reeks of hopelessness yet captures the soul of the listener. Wilt is a stunning debut offering from this Canadian duo. This EP is essential listening; a jewel hidden beneath the frigid Manitoban snows.
Vinyl available from War on Music

AOTY #11: OM - Advaitic Songs

There's just something about OM that appeals to me on a deep level. Since their debut, Variations on a Theme they've kept me entranced with swirling hypnotic rhythms  that circle back and reappear throughout the album. Their simplistic bass/drum/voice approach resonates on a different level. Advaitic Songs sees Cisternos and Amos bring in even more Eastern flavour to an already highly meditative formula. Even at their loudest and most punishing OM still exudes a sense of calm and reflection. Listening to Advaitic Songs is like riding the whorls of smoke drifting from a stick of incense. It chases away negative energies leaving the listener feeling cleansed, centered and peaceful. I couldn't ask for anything more.
Interesting story: Back in the early 2000s (2002-2003 specifically) original OM drummer Chris Hakius was in a band called The Sabians with his wife, Rachel Fisher, Patrick Huerta and Justin Marler (ex-Sleep) and I fucking LOVED them. I was in regular contact via email with Huerta and to some degree with the rest of the members as well. I had mentioned the idea of starting a band with just bass and drums. No guitar. Huerta thought it was pretty cool and heavy, ya know. I can't recall if I heard from any of the others about it though. Well, the Sabians didn't make it to 2004 (much to my chagrin) yet in 2005 what should appear? OM, a 2 piece bass/drum/voice with Hakius behind the kit. Did I play a part in the formation of the band? I highly doubt it but it's a pretty fucking cool coincidence!!