As anyone who has been seriously sick or injured could tell you, there’s a paradox to the act of healing, in that recovery can be really fucking difficult and painful. The same is true of emotional hurt, and that paradox is what lies at the heart of Forever. The new album from Madeline Johnston, going by the name of Midwife, is a tribute to her friend Colin Ward, who sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2018. The ghost of that loss hangs over Forever, and is an integral part of the album; yet you don’t need to know the backstory to be touched by Forever. Anyone who has loved, lost, and hurt will know exactly what this album is trying to communicate.
According to most calendars, 2019 lasted about four years, and this decade has gone on so long that Nyan Cat was born, morphed into annoyance, and died an ignoble death before it was even a third of the way through (seriously, if you want to feel old, just look how many memes have come and gone not just this decade, but this year). Which is another way of saying, a lot has happened this year – and, let’s face it, a lot of it has been pretty bad. But, at least we have heavy metal (and punk, and noise, and ambient, and… you get the picture). So, with that in mind, following one from parts Iand II, here’s the culimnation of many, many records listened to, assessed, and (largely) enjoyed: my top five records of 2019. Each one of these albums is absolutely incredible, and I can’t say enough good things about them. Enjoy!
As some of you will know, I’ve been in a bit of a funk recently. The thought of approaching new music – never mind writing about it! – felt like a challenge I did not want. Yet when the promo for Sea of Worry dropped into my inbox, I felt the stirrings of an excitement I had almost forgotten existed. Have a Nice Life have gained a cult following for a reason. Few bands feel so experimental and grounded at the same time, with whatever adventures they embark upon having a solid emotional core. It’s safe to say that expectations for Sea of Worry are high, but does the album leave the listener floundering in the shallows; struggling in its depths; or basking in its waves?
This month’s short reviews come a little later in the month than usual, but that’s because so many records I wanted to cover ended up getting full reviews instead; sometimes, that’s just how it goes. That shouldn’t be seen as any kind of slight on these records, though. The Last Martyr‘s modern metal aims for the highest stars; whilst Moloch and Groakwill drag you down to the gutter. Wallowing may tell sci-fi tales, but their music is still very much of this earth; and Death by Fungi offer up some of the finest hardcore to be found not just in India, but anywhere. Finally, Wreck and Reference do what Wreck and Reference do – switch styles, experiment, and offer up something emotionally devastating. Enjoy!
Released just over a year ago, Cold Air by Drowse was a prime example of music as self-care – a combination of blissful relaxation and utter anxiety, expressed through hazy shoegaze and slowcore, mixed with an avant garde approach to electronica and atmosphere. In contrast, Light Mirror is an album that explores art not as self-care but as self-sabotage and is, appropriately, a much darker album than the previous release. Art can act as a form of catharsis, an explosive release of energy and negativity; but explosions can, in themselves, be harmful.
Considering that the band contains members of Ulthar, Abstracter, and Atrament, and that it’s being released by the mighty The Flenser label, expectations are inevitably raised for the debut album by Vale. Thankfully, Burden of Sight absolutely delivers, with its blackened crust onslaught possessing not only the rabid edge that helps characterise the genre, but also a slightly progressive aspect. Combined, it ensures that Vale are at the fore-front of this style – blackened crust has been lacking a real scene leader ever since Young And In The Way disbanded in the light of rape allegations, and in Vale, the scene may just have found one.
The promo for Out of Time, the new album from Mamaleek, describes the duo as “black metal weirdos”. It feels like a fair description; but also, on the evidence presented here, like a fairly tenuous one. That’s not intended as any kind of slight; rather, as anyone who has previously listened to the band will know, Mamaleek make the kind of music that isn’t so much difficult to categorise, as it defies genre almost completely. Out of Time, at various points made me think of funk; later-day David Bowie; art rock; Swans; dark jazz and, yes, avant garde metal. And yet, it always feels coherent, moving with singular purpose and direction, and far easier to lose yourself in than such a combination of styles might suggest. But more than that, it is an album with an unusual sense of character and humanity; most extreme music can feel like it is putting up a barrier between performer and audience, but this? This album wants to invite you in to share its pain.
There’s often a tendency for post-black metal bands to focus on the “post” part of the equation, with the more memorable sections of their music being the more expansive and, for want of a better word, “pretty” sections. This has been as true for Bosse-de-Nage in the past as it has for any other post-black metal band; but now, on Further Still, those moments are relative calm are all-but abandoned, with the songs instead being tight, controlled bursts of fury. If most other post-black metal pulls from post-rock, shoegaze, and Cascadian black metal, then Further Still is post-black via way of Battles in the North and the most furious of post-hardcore. It is vicious, unrelenting, and impossible to deny its power.
The concept of creating music as self-care is hardly a new one, but sometimes, an album can strike you with just how powerful and important a concept that is. Such is the case with Cold Air, the new album from Drowse. Written during a spell of anxiety and depression, Cold Air is an album of interesting contradictions. At times, its hazy shoegaze is filled with warmth, and possesses a real power of emotional healing; and then at others, there is the feeling that something is desperately scratching at the walls, trying to get out with a life-threatening desperation. It makes Cold Air an intense listen, despite its often soothing sounds; and one that is filled with a unique sense of personality and intensity.
Sometimes, there is comfort in the darkness. There are records out there whose content speaks of pain and misery, and wants you, the listener, to know that you’re not alone; to know that things will get better.
How We Lived isn’t one of those albums.
On their second full-length together, the duo of Heinali and Matt Finney have crafted something that may move with a damaged grace and sense of warped beauty; and there may be sounds that shimmer and dance in the haze; but more than that, How We Lived is an album heavy with the sounds of deep-seated sorrow, rooted in the everyday experiences that slowly build up until the burden feels insurmountable. It is a challenging listen, intense in a more emotional rather than musical sense, but it is also a deeply rewarding one, where the void in your soul may stare back at you, but if you’re strong enough to avoid looking away, How We Lived makes for one hell of an experience.