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Metal Mulligans: Vanessa Salvia’s grab-bag

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Every time I tried to pin down an order of 20 — or even 10 — top albums of the year, they squished and squirmed around under my fingers. Which did I like more? Black metal, doom, death-doom, blackened doom, blackened death, crusty doom or crusty black? What about the sludgy noise? What about headbanging fist pumpers? I gave up.

This is a list of albums, in no particular order, that I should have paid more attention to when they came out, albums that slowly grew on me, and albums that I discovered randomly. Truth is, I did a terrible job of keeping up with listening to new music on a regular basis this year. By the time I discovered how much I liked something, in many cases, the window of opportunity to write a review had closed. So, in addition to the bands that I actually reviewed this year, this list will hopefully open your eyes to some new music that you might have overlooked, as well as undo some of the effects of my benign neglect.

— Vanessa Salvia

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NOOTHGRUSH/COFFINS — split (USA/Japan, Southern Lord) (Stream on Bandcamp)

Coffins can’t be stopped, and Noothgrush is still a pissed-off nightmare, even after their long hiatus. The best splits highlight the similarities and differences between the bands involved, and this is a perfect example. Noothgrush’s sludge and Coffins’ gore together is a metal/crust/doom/death pit of perfect despair.

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BELL WITCH — LONGING (USA, Profound Lore) (Stream on Bandcamp)

This came out December 13, 2012, but I didn’t hear it until months later. There is nothing more fitting than ‘Longing’ to call this record. On these six songs, bassist/vocalist Dylan Desmond (also of Samothrace) and drummer/vocalist Adrian Guerra display unrelenting despair. This intense feeling can’t be conveyed through a barrage of riffs. Rather, it’s a stretched-out feeling, of pain constantly evolving but never diminishing. Even as a bass/drum duo, this pair manages to evade convention. Of these six songs, one is nearly 20-minutes long and one is a 5-minute drone without drums.

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EPHEMEROS — ALL HAIL CORROSION (USA, Seventh Rule) (Listen at Seventh Rule)

I’m trying not to use the word ‘despair’ in every review, so how about I start with ‘miserable’? Portland’s Ephemeros, comprised of various gloom-inaries from West Coast bands Nux Vomica, Graves At Sea, Uzala, and Bastard Feast, play lonesome, terrible, dismal doom. Epic, slow, funeral doom. The kind that stretches into a beautiful ache, with only three songs lasting 40 minutes.

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VHOL— VHOL (USA, Profound Lore) (Listen at Profound Lore)

I’m sure this will be on everyone’s year-end list given the pedigree of members, but here it is anyway for those of you who were under a rock all of last year. It’s an amazing slab of blackened d-beat that lays bare the rebelliousness, energy and confident assembly of its parts. Hopefully this will become more than a one-off side project.

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THE BODY — MASTER, WE PERISH (USA, At A Loss Recordings) (Stream at Bandcamp)

I don’t understand why I like the music that percussionist Lee Buford and guitarist/vocalist Chip King make. I suppose I’m voting for this album as much for the noise as I am for the macabre visuals that accompany their songs. I don’t really like Chip’s screaming vocals, but somehow, over the air raid sirens, shotgun blasts, and manipulated samples, it’s terrifying enough that I keep coming back for more.

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LUMBAR — THE FIRST AND LAST DAYS OF UNWELCOME (USA, Profound Lore) (Stream at Bandcamp)

Lumbar was formed by friends Aaron Edge (Himsa, Iamthethorn, Roareth, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth), Mike Scheidt (YOB, VHOL) and Tad Doyle (Tad, Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth) as a means of embodying Edge’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. The seven tracks here are presented as days 1 through 7. However this timespan is interpreted, the listener gets oppressive disharmony and a very uncomfortable sense of helplessness. It was during a 40-day period of being bedridden from continuous pain that Edge wrote this album, and the proceeds from the sales will go to his medical fund.

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WOLFSGREY — TRANSYLVANIAN PLAGUESPREADER COMMITTEE (Transylvania, Tenebrd Music) (Stream on Bandcamp)

I never would have found this band if someone from their label hadn’t sent me a link to it, and I’m really glad they did. This is old-school punk and black metal for fans of Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, or Tormentor. Apparently, this band produced five demo tapes from 2008 to 2012, and this is their debut album. The band sings about wolves, natch — the album opens with a wolf’s bay — vampires, and the history of their people and land, but it quickly turns into a lo-fi black ’n’ roll throwdown. Vocalist “Béla Lugosi”’s gravelly vocal style might be a hard-sell to some people, but it works for me.

. . .

HUNGERS — HUNGERS (USA, Belief Mower Records) (Stream on Bandcamp)

Hungers, by the Portland band of the same name, is the fourth release from a new tape-only label located in Eugene. This is seven tracks of noisy black metal played by two guitarists and a drummer. Having listened to a lot of Am-Rep bands, I appreciate the angular underpinnings and stretched-out punk tendencies of bands like this, especially when the songs are also catchy as hell.

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YEAR OF NO LIGHT — TOCSIN (France, Debemur Morti Productions) (Stream on Bandcamp)

I spend many hours nearly each day writing about something or another, and I need music, but I also need to be able to think my own thoughts. Sometimes music that’s too demanding musically or lyrically gets me thinking about the song’s stories and not the ones I’m trying to tell, so I need heavy but melodic instrumental music that is interesting and expansive but that doesn’t need me. This year I stumbled across two that do what I want. Tocsin just dropped on November 29, but luckily I had access to it a little early. I’ll be listening to this epic post-metal a lot next year.

. . .

ENSEMBLE PEARL — ENSEMBLE PEARL (USA, Drag City) (Listen at Drag City)

How I did not discover this on my own is beyond me, but luckily I have friends who are cooler than I am. This quartet is Stephen O’Malley (Sunn O)))), Bill Herzog (Jesse Sykes), Michio Kurihara, and Atsuo (both from Boris). The effect of this union is a spare and deliberate, a dark, trippy landscape where your imagination can run wild.

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MONOLITHE — MONOLITHE IV (France, Debemur Morti Productions) (Stream on Bandcamp)

An hour of glorious and powerful doom in a single track. If you have Monolithe III, this album is meant as a continuation of that and the albums that came before to mark an end of the Monolithe narrative. Despite the addition of operatic female vocals, this is definitely the heaviest of their albums.

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