Every year, Rob asks me to contribute a year-end list to this fine establishment, and every year, I harsh everyone’s buzz by submitting the most putrid, willfully esoteric hodgepodge of sonic brutality I can conjure up. The following list spotlights some of the best underground releases of 2011; it’s been a good year for metal, and this is only a taste of what’s out there. There’s more to life than Mastodon (or even Leviathan). Come, my fanatics. Enter the eternal fire.
Ensorcelor – Crucifuge
(Media Tree Recordings) – This Quebecois horde’s first full-length album is one of the most perfectly-crafted releases of the past five years, and it’s a wretched shame that it has been allowed to fester in relative obscurity. A sinuous creation of ash and bone, dark and light, Crucifuge is a black metal record at heart, merged with a sludgy temperament and some of funeral doom’s more harrowing hallmarks – crawling pace, shivering tension between riffs and chords, coarse, cavernous vocals. However, Ensorcelor allow so much interplay between the spacious passages, the slow, resolute tempo, and the washes of ambiance, bathes them in cold, desolate atmosphere, and cloaks it all in a muted production effort, draped it across the recording like wispy strands of dying Spanish moss, that this monument of filth becomes something close to beauty.
Void Meditation Cult – Sulfurous Prayers
(Hell’s Headbangers) – Harrowing, hateful, and primitive, three songs of blasphemous black/death supremacy make up Void Meditation Cult’s virgin offering. Murderously slow and graced with some of the most bilious, guttural invocations this side of Wormphlegm, ‘Sulfurous Prayers’ was torn from the crypt and dragged straight down to hell. Highly, highly recommended.
Blasphemophagher – The III Command of Absolute Chaos
(Nuclear War Now!) – The third full-length from Italy’s finest apocalyptic war command is an unrelenting slab of bestial black/death, swathed in layers upon layers of distortion. Hellishly fast, lo-fi, and thick as blood, Blasphemophagher show no mercy, hammering out Blasphemy-baiting odes to nuclear hell and radioactive carnage in an orgy of violence. UGH!
Lycus – Demo 2011
(Graceless Recordings) Originally formed in 2008, lain to rest, and now, with this year’s demo, resurrected in despair, California’s Lycus are a welcome addition to the doomed pantheon. Mournful, weighty funeral doom in the vein of genre titans Skepticism and Worship and peers Loss; elegant in its despondency, achingly beautiful in its sorrow. Doomed forever, forever doomed.
Dolorvotre – Dolorvotre
(Crepusculo Negro) – The shadowy collective of musicians known as the Black Twilight Circle have unleashed a slew of demos and collaborations over the past few years, but few have stood out as brightly as Dolorvotre, who build upon the so-primitive-it’s-almost-punk black metal template lain down by brothers in arms Volahn, Ashdautas, Blue Hummingbird on the Left, et al, but dose their seemingly simplistic melodies with swirls of psychedelia and haunt their chainsaw riffs with hallucinogenic nightmares. Murky, claustrophobic, and bleeding raw, Dolorvotre are not meant for everyone – the sub-demo recording quality will cause many to shy away, but those who dare will not regret their foray into this subterranean cell.
Bestial Raids – Prime Evil Damnation
(Nuclear War Now!) – This album is fucking barbaric. Prime Evil Damnation is the second LP from this Polish cult, and sees them marching leaps and bounds ahead of their previous efforts. Submerged in filth and impenetrable darkness, constructed from an unholy meeting of black and death, and rife with Satanic hate, Prime Evil Damnation is intensity personified, a swirling void of chaos and menace augmented by vicious backing vocals from Vaz and Impurath of the immortal Black Witchery. Buy or die.
Oskoreien – Oskoreien
This one-man entity creates epic, nature-inspired atmospheric black metal in the vein of Altar of Plagues, Panopticon, Falls of Rauros, Agalloch, but still stands alone. Oskoreien immediately brings to mind the triumphant feel of Bathory’s Hammerheart, filtered through the sweet air and crystalline waters of the great Northwest and imbued with ancient wisdom. Gorgeous expanses of fragile post-rock mix gently with the harshness and purpose of the album’s more blackened passages, songs ebb and flow like waves at sunset, and it’s far too easy to lose yourself amongst the waves.
Ritual Necromancy – Oath of the Abyss
(Dark Descent) – Truly disgusting, stifling, churning, atonal death metal, torn from the pages of John McEntee’s songbook and flung into the cavernous depths that spat out like-minded Incantation-spawn Antediluvian, Cemetery Urn, Disma, Portal, et al. Ritual Necromancy practice ancient, occult death worship, smeared with black vomit and with tendons cut to slow them to a wretched crawl. They are not reinventing any wheels or breaking down barriers, but in this world, regression trumps progression. Hail infernal death.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Blood Lust
All roads lead to Black Sabbath. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats decided to take their pilgrimage early, trawling the paisley-clad, riff-worshipping, occult-laced , bluesy oozing confusion of seventies acid rock and late sixties witch rock on their way back to Birmingham. When Jinx Dawson dances with the Devil, Uncle Acid’s there running Ol’ Scratch’s fiddle through a Big Muff. When Iommi strummed his way through that inimitable Sabbath boogie, he was there again to filter it all through 666 layers of smoke and mirrors. When Electric Wizard climb up onto their dopethrones to sleep off the druglust, Uncle Acid is there to unplug their amps, mellow their buzz, and pack the bowl. Blood Lust is hazy, fuzzed-put, bad trip psychedelic doomed stoner rock from a trio of depraved acid casualties with Satan on their side. Tune in, tune down, drop out of life with bong in hand.
Botanist – I: The Suicide Tree/II: A Rose from the Dead
(tUMULt) – You have never heard anything like this before. Not simply because it’s a bit more on the obscure side, but because there is nothing on this dying planet that sounds like Botanist. The words “experimental” and “progressive” get thrown around willy-nilly by any band who’s ever owned a Yes record, but how many of them have composed a double-album suite played entirely on hammered dulcimer, accompanied by various percussion and one inhumanly twisted voice? That’s what I thought. The idea behind Botanist is rooted in ecological awareness and a deep love of the natural world; the Botanist himself professes a desire to see “ the day when humans will either die or kill each other off, which will allow plants to make the Earth green once again.” As for the music? It’s gloriously weird, saturated with otherwordly tones and startling transitions, both ambient and jarring, intriguing and alienating, harsh yet lush. Black metal’s misanthropic core and trademark nihilistic croak anchor it all in place, but that’s where the similarities between this and metal as we know it end abruptly. Enter the Verdant Realm – but don’t stray too far from the path, lest you never return.