Sound Investments of 2010

New Albums I Picked Up This Past Year:

In what was likely a memorable first for me, I spent far more time in 2010 immersed in literature than music. Realistically, it’s probably always been a 40/60 split that just happened to flip this year, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less odd. Additionally, the attention I gave to new music significantly decreased in favor of catching up with musical lineages or bands I had been meaning to hear. As I parse through myriad “Best of…” posts and catalogs of releases, the new stuff I heard boils down to a meagre pile. It’s mostly a good pile, though. I could add High on Fire‘s Snakes for the Divine to the list, but I found the opening track disappointing and haven’t bothered to go back for a real listen (They’re always great live, though; the latest albums have been too “produced” for my tastes, lacking the punch).

The albums I spent time with and a list of ones I want to check out after the jump…

• Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini. While not as strong as their previous effort, Vertebrae (which I had on an occasionally interrupted loop for nearly a year), these prog-minded norsemen still delivered another album to rock the longboat. The presence of a couple melodramatically overwrought passages—most notably the end vocals and solo of “Ethica Odini”—marred what would have otherwise been a near-flawless record, but in some perverse way I see such flaws as welcome marks of human accident that keep the band from realizing a terrifyingly machinic consistency of production. In other words, I’m kinda glad they didn’t make a third (and arguably fourth) perfect album in a row.

• Intronaut, Valley of Smoke. Ever since replacing the departed Leon del Muerte with guitarist Dave Timnick, Intronaut have toned down their raw, metallic brutality in favor of more subtle, patient composition. The transition is akin to that made by ISIS between the Mosquito Control ep and Oceanic. As usual, heaviness and precision abound, but it’s all tempered by sleeker production (which cuts down the “raw” factor) and more deliberate pacing. I don’t mind the latter at all, but music loses power as grit is polished, so it’s always entering choppy water for heavy bands (particularly of the “proggy” variety). Intronaut’s exploration into vocal harmonies is also troublesome, as it follows on the heels of Mastodon‘s dire atrocities on Crack the Skye (Yes, I know people love that album, but trust me, if you actually listen to it it’s terrible). Trying to sing doesn’t make one a more accomplished songwriter or musician; in most cases it betrays a lack of ideas because it’s so boilerplate. Anyway, I’m still listening to this and it’s mostly good. I’m also working out some theories as to why bands I like keep heading in this direction, vocal-wise.

• Kylesa, Spiral Shadow. Utter disappointment. I really enjoyed Time Will Fuse Its Worth despite the unnecessary addition of a second drummer, but this album is just egregious. Parts are merely “ok” while the majority suffers from whatever as-yet-nameless syndrome is infecting too many of my favorite contemporary bands (see above comment). Despite the Allmusic review’s praise that the album develops “rhythmic intricacy without devolving into proggy abstraction or wallowing in Melvins-like thudding,” it, A) achieves no such intricacy and, B) would actually benefit from both of those latter characteristics. I love this band. Love wallowing in their early hardcore mire; love that they’ve been willing to take risks with psychedelic elements; love that they felt comfortable enough to experiment with even more new elements this time around. Unfortunately, the experiments don’t work for me here and I just can’t get into this record. That’s fine, I’ll start to worry if their next album is a stinker.

• Unearthly Trance, V. I only recently got around to checking out this latest release from guys who’ve mastered a very urban, northeastern variant of sludgy, psychedelic hardcore. The occasional hint of black metal influence is what made their2006 album, The Trident, so utterly appealing (particularly since it preceded the ongoing black-metal infiltration of what seems like all of heavy music); I hadn’t experienced such a combination of hardcore and blackness since the demise of Majority Rule. But yeah, I’ve only had a cursory listen to this, though what I remember was pretty good.

2010 Albums I’d Like to Check Out

• Atheist, Jupiter.

• Cephalic Carnage, Mislead by Certainty.

• Harvey Milk, A Small Turn of Human Kindness.

• Howl, Full of Hell.

• Ludicra, The Tenant.

• Mouth of the Architect, The Violence Beneath ep.

• Nachtmystium, Addicts: Black Meddle, Pt. II.

• Torche, Songs for Singles. Got to see them & Kylesa open for High on Fire this year, but haven’t had a chance to listen to this yet. I’m kinda lazy & forgetful. Their live show is always super fun, though. Highly recommend. Also, they did this & this. Hilarious.

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