Cloistered high in the Sleeping Village’s Ivory Tower, amidst the industry of scratching quills and churning parchment, this particular scribe enjoys a moment of reflection, now and again. Without getting preachy, today’s topic is an unfortunate trap that I find myself falling into: I pigeonhole certain genres (and, by extension, bands) as intellectual, operating in contrast to those who are driven by emotion. As a thought process that unconsciously promotes a high-over-low-brow mentality, it’s particularly dangerous when this becomes a system for ranking the quality of music. The takeaway? There are multiple factors that define a band’s sound and approach, and if you approach new music assuming otherwise, you miss out. Case in point: Bather. With a bio that refers to Thomas Hobbes’ civility-be-damned exposé of humanity’s ugly underbelly, William Etty’s Musidora: The Bather 'At the Doubtful Breeze Alarmed, and the poet James Thompson’s Summer, it’s apparent that this Columbus, Ohio quintet approaches art from a decidedly well-read standpoint.
But does that mean their sound itself is stuffy and esoteric? Not in the slightest. Sonically, Bather recalls the good ol’ early days of ‘core, before everything was brought down by uninspired breakdowns and drenched in sappy lyricism. Y’know, neutered. They eschew the jubilantly punk oriented sound of the earliest acts--i.e. Agnostic Front--but 90’s frontrunners such as like Indecision’s Unorthodox, Integrity’s System Overload, or perhaps Hatebreed’s Under the Knife get you in a similar arena of hardcore spite and sasquatchian riffage. Promo material rightly compares Bather’s furious sound to Destroy the Machines, the debut album from metalcore tough guys Earth Crisis. Aggressive, dense, misanthropic. Throw in a healthy dose of death-tinged sludge for good measure.
Influences aside, Bather are undeniable bruisers. Drums are clobbered into submission, and the guitar is...weaponized, for lack of a better word. Whether chugging or thrumming, this tone is walloped around like a bat wrapped in barbed wire. The riffs themselves, while mighty, exist largely as a staging ground for muscular vocals, which act as the debut’s hooven glue. Like a wasp-stung muskox, this guy grunts and yelps with vivacious intensity. He alternates between styles of delivery with a certain abandon that, while seeming wild, is undoubtedly calculated. This expressive range lends Bather a dynamism that is frankly stunning for such a belligerent brand of ‘core. Look the the chorus on “All Dark Rooms,” or to the moments between chugs on “Birds,” where the vocals are particularly repugnant (and this, of course, in the best sense of the word). Thick, brooding, swathed in sweat. Even the more straightforward delivery on “The Path” utilizes a burly knuckle-dragging swagger, which is, in time, counteracted by a higher pitched tone. It’s both brutal and nuanced. A hard balance to hit.
As a result, nothing here feels stale. Take, for example, the aformentioned “All Dark Rooms,” which adjusts the tempo and general atmosphere, bringing the aggression from a boil to a menacing simmer. Similarly, closing track “Leaves Like Bones” changes the pace to a near-dirge at points, which is a well-played distraction from the fury of prior tracks. The latter may have succeeded more so as a mid-album interlude of sorts, as a punchier conclusion may have left the audience with a fresher welt. An exceedingly minor complaint, however, because in reality, reaching the end is essentially an open invitation to smash the repeat.
It's grimy, but beyond that, the whole affair is tinged with the miasma of sin. By tapping into the aggression, tension, and brutality of a short life sans society, Bather have done the near-impossible: they’ve crafted a metalcore album that holds appeal for academic riff-addicts. Honestly, when’s the last time you’ve been able to say that about ‘core? This debut is an impressive feat. Highly recommended.
Bather’s self-titled debut will be released April 12th, 2019 from Appalachian Noise Records.
Says guitarist and vocalist Chris Roo: “This world is fucked and I really just need to get shit out with my friends by my side." And in one fell swoop, Roo thusly describes the sound and the impact of the debut EP from Chicago’s own These Beast far more succinctly than I ever will. Forthcoming glowing recommendation aside, you just gotta appreciate a band that nails it in the artistic statement department. And there's no question: everyone can benefit from a good vent. The trouble, more often than not, is finding an audience willing to subject themselves to your grievances. In the case of These Beasts, it’s looking like this particular Villager shall henceforth lend an ear.
These Beasts don’t defy classification per se--but, as with most artists, describing them in terms of who they sound like versus what they sound like feels reductive. In any case, bear with me here. By kicking in the door with a certain mustardy ferocity, These Beasts take the forthright no-fucks-given experimentality of Botch or “Red Medicine”-era Fugazi, and batter, fairly mercilessly, against the distortion-ridden and axe-bashing aggression of Unsane or Whores. While the sonic differences are obvious, a general Torche-esque weirdness broods beneath, lending the entire affair a comfortable air of genre-melding nostalgia.
It’s clearly noisey, but “noise rock” doesn’t quite do These Beasts any sort of justice, as punk-driven vivacity and doomy undercurrents pervade. For the former, look to the celebratory shouts of “Shirilla In a Tub.” In terms of the latter, melancholic standout “Shovel and Pick,” and the back half of “Impugn” come highly recommended. Churning and angular riffs billow and slice with serrated finesse, leaving ragged wounds with paradoxical precision. All the while the twin vocals are expulsive yet melodic, communing effectively with the guitar to maintain a consistently pugilistic front. Needless to say, the sheer intensity feels genuine throughout. Bludgeoning drums--with particularly excellence cymbal work, I might add--keep the affair appropriately grounded. The entire 6 track packages bristles with an untamed energy, but yet, it never feels overlong or undercooked. In other words, it’s clear to this attentive listener that these boys have a knack for revision.
And throughout, most importantly, this EP demonstrates a cathartic raw anger, a general recognizable fury. For those of you looking to sample, intro track “End of the Whip” (listen below) remains the prime example of this actualized intent. Do These Beasts incite anger, shouldering the burden of rabble-rousers? Not so much. Do they reflect our collective need and appreciation for catharsis? Absolutely. This ferocious EP comes highly recommended.
These Beasts - These Beasts will be released 3/29 from Magnetic Eye Records
Written by: Loveloth
In an ocean of similar sounding post-everything bands, Astronoid clearly stand out. Each time I listen to them, I go to places, places that are far above all our tellurian and insignificant issues. While this feeling of elation isn't something new to me, Astronoid awaken something very specific in me. Despite existing for seven years now, Astronoid grabbed a lot of people's attention back in 2016 when they burst on to the scene with their debut Air, which brimmed with energy and creativity. It was a really good record so I wondered how their follow-up will sound, and I got my answer recently in the shape of Astronoid. I was a bit confused why they opted for such a simple title but after acquainting myself well with the record I realized what they were going for. But more on that later.
For the uninitiated, Astronoid revel in reverb, delay-heavy guitar work which, when combined with Brett Boland's falsetto's and Matt St. Jean's energetic and fast drumming, creates an ethereal and otherwordly atmosphere, but it's still intense and vivacious. I'll admit that this doesn't sound very original but make no mistake, as soon as you hear them, you'll realize they're something special. And while I didn't agree with them being labeled as "dream thrash" before, it definitely makes more sense now. You see, unlike Air, Astronoid doesn't rely as much on blastbeats or aggression. Instead, the band opted for a more varied and even punky (regarding the drums) approach.What we get is something that isn't that much different from Air, but it needs not be because of the quality the band possesses.
The record sets off with "A New Color" which is standard Astronoid business. It's fast, uplifting, has wonderful guitar harmonies, and Boland's characteristic vocals that you'll either love or hate due to his higher register and often usage of falsetto that is akin to Agent Fresco, Arcane Roots and most importantly Mew, who are a big inspiration to the band. Funnily enough "A New Color" is actually one of the weaker tracks but serves as a nice segway into the more interesting stuff that is down the line.
"Lost" is one of those tracks. Be it the gorgeous build-up, breathtaking breakdown or that nasty riff, this track is Astronoid at their best. Their sense of crafting sprawling and richly ambient compositions is superb and that sense of wonder I mentioned never left me, even when on repeated listens. Beauty and elusiveness hides all over Astronoid and I am certain that everyone will be reminded of different things when listening to it.
However, there is fair deal of repetition on this record but Astronoid use it as another tool for immersion and it works most of the time. "I Wish I Was There While The Sun Set" is a solid example of this but I need to mention that break near the fourth minute mark which caught me off guard because it reminds me of Motorhead that played post-rock. That bass tone is too good to ignore.
Speaking of which, the production. Magnus Lindberg (of Cult Of Luna) did an excellent job with the mastering but it would be pointless if the mix wasn't as good as it is. Drums are punchy but not overpowering (that snare sounds amazing), the bass is rich and chunky but is in that sweet spot between the guitars and the drums, you know, the place where it should be. The vocals are above everything but don't suffocate the instrumentation. What I am trying to say is that I really like how this record sounds.
Now, back to the introductory paragraph. I think the band chose the name Astronoid because it perfectly represents them as a band and the journey that led them to this point where they are at. It's obvious, but you can hear that youthful passion, energy and drive in the songs and I do love hearing genuine art because it's not as common nowadays. There is one issue that is holding this record back a bit though, and it has to do with Boland and his one-note approach to vocals. I sincerely hope he changes things up, or that the band adds more of them on their next release.
Overall, Astronoid may not possess that shock value Air had, but it's still a worthy successor to one of the most exciting debuts in recent memory. "Water", "Fault", "Ideal World" or "Breathe" all show a band that is confident and love what they do. I just hope they exit their comfort zone a bit. In any case, I am excited for their future, just as I was almost three years ago. History repeats itself.
Astronoid - Astronoid was released Feb 1st. from Blood Music
Written by: Ancient Hand
Ranging from the most extreme to the most ethereal, a wide range of genres are represented--and appreciated--here at the Sleeping Village. In that adventurous spirit, here are Ancient Hand's top 20 albums of 2018.
20. THOSE POOR BASTARDS - Inhuman Nature
Those Poor Bastards follow up their 2016 album, Sing it Ugly, with Inhuman Nature—an album that I was very excited about. Their previous album had some songs that I loved, but I found it to be one of the band’s weaker overall due to its overly grating production and repetitive sounds. My favorite album from the group is Satan is Watching, which features the band embracing more dark and sinister sounds. Luckily, just as much variation on that album was utilized by the band on this new release. This new album from the duo was announced with the single “Snake-Tongued Deceiver,” which features production that places the album in the time period that it aims to emulate. The rest of the album fell in line with this single; the production is fun and allows for bouncy rhythms, which are usually brought about through the incredibly fun synth work. The vocals have an interesting inflection that brings a melancholic mood to the bouncy music. Overall, I had a ton of fun with this album.
Favorite Tracks: Heap Bad Medicine, Snake Tongued Deceiver, Blow Wind
19. RIVERS OF NIHIL - Where Owls Know My Name
An interesting blend of jazz instrumentation and death metal. I don’t think either aspect of the album is the best in its respective genre, but I do think that the blend offers a ton of interesting material to enjoy. Catchy guitar riffs, fast-paced drumming, atmospheric instrumentation placed with the brutal vocals makes for one of the year’s most headbang-inducing albums!
Favorite Tracks: Terrestria III: Wither, The Silent Life, Where Owls Know My Name
18. ZEAL & ARDOR - Stranger Fruit
After my review of their debut album, Devil is Fine, Zeal & Ardor essentially did exactly what I wanted from them on their follow-up; the electronic elements took a backseat and left room for the chilling mix of blues and black metal. The haunting atmosphere of this album alone makes it one of the year’s most engaging releases, and pairing that atmosphere with the impressive instrumentation gives you one hell of a terrifying, catchy album.
Favorite Tracks: Intro, We Can’t Be Found, Stranger Fruit
17. UADA - Cult of a Dying Sun
Uada followed up my favorite album of 2016 with an incredibly punishing, yet slightly bloated, sophomore album. I really wanted to love this album, and I was happy when it lived up to my expectations. I still feel that the run time is a little too long for the lack of variation, but the material on the album is very much worthwhile, nonetheless.
Favorite Tracks: The Purging Fire, Cult of a Dying Sun, Mirrors
16. IDLES - Joy As An Act of Resistance
Positive and bouncy, this punk album is filled with fist-pumping anthems that will get stuck in your head for days.
Favorite Tracks: Television, Danny Nedelko, Colossus
15. ARCHITECTS - Holy Hell
Architects return from losing an integral member of their band to cancer with an incredibly moving metalcore record. The pained screams from frontman Sam Carter nearly make the entire release for me. The use of strings throughout the album elevate it to heights so epic that all you can feel is the emotion put into the music. While it may not be the most technically proficient album of the year, it is one of the heaviest when it comes to emotional weight.
Favorite Tracks: Royal Beggars, Holy Hell, The Seventh Circle
14. IMMORTAL - Northern Chaos Gods
Immortal returns with one of the best albums of their career. This release is filled with incredible riffs and drumming. The vocals are amazing, and the epic atmosphere puts the last 15 years of their discography to shame. Similar to Uada, I felt that this release was maybe one song too long, but otherwise, I just wish more albums could successfully achieve the atmosphere this album does.
Favorite Tracks: Mighty Ravendark, Northern Chaos Gods, Gates to Blashyrkh
13. BEARTOOTH - Disease
Beartooth started off strong. Their debut EP was some of the most scathing and brutal metalcore I had heard when it dropped. Their debut album introduced more melody, and their sophomore album made me doubt that they could ever recapture the same magic. I seriously lost a lot of hope after their 2014 album, Aggressive. That is, until I started hearing the singles from Disease. This album is an experiment in metalcore. Elements from punk, classic rock, and emo find their places in the tracklist. A varied listen, and with most of the experimentation playing off so successfully, this album is one of the year’s best—and potentially the band’s best release ever.
Favorite Tracks: Greatness or Death, Afterall, Clever
12. BROCKHAMPTON - iridescence
BROCKHAMPTON have all eyes on them. Their careers are at the point where they can either propel themselves even more into the realm of hip-hop’s bests, or they can lose it all. After last year’s releases and the controversy surrounding one of their members, a lot rode on this album. Luckily, their new album, iridescence, sees the bands at potentially their most cohesive. All the members seem to be on the page, and the frustration with their current states of life shine through in a multitude of sounds—from chaotic to beautiful. It is definitely a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing what else they can achieve.
Favorite Tracks: San Marcos, J'ouvert, Tonya
11. NOW, NOW - Saved
Now, Now released one of my favorite albums of all time in 2012 with Threads. I have been waiting nearly 6 years for their follow-up, and during that wait, the group’s sound changed drastically. Now only a two-piece, Now, Now have created Saved, a synth-pop album that relies more on the vocal melodies of Cacie than the drumming of Bradley. Luckily, Cacie delivers. Cuts like AZ and MJ show her as a strong and capable frontwoman. Not every track lands the same way these do, but when the duo is able to achieve the sound they’re going for, it is clear this change in their sound works to take their musical prowess in a direction with tons of possibilities. Hopefully, we don’t have another six-year wait ahead of us.
Favorite Tracks: MJ, AZ, P0wder
10. MOUNT EERIE - Now Only
Mount Eerie followed up one of 2017’s best albums with an equally crushing and emotional musical journey. This time around, the songs make use of more typical music motifs, but the result is just as difficult to listen to. I sincerely hope things get better for Phil and his family.
Favorite Tracks: Earth, Crow, Pt. 2, Distortion
9. HORRENDOUS - Idol
Horrendous continue to put out impressive music. Idol is an incredibly interesting and engaging listen that grabs your attention and refuses to let go until it the entire album is done. The interesting and catchy riffs, the howling vocals, and the punishing drumming all culminate into an oddly melodic yet brutal album; oxymoronic as it may seem, this album deserves to be heard.
Favorite Tracks: Soothsayer, Divine Anhedonia, Obolus
8. PANOPTICON - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II
Panopticon tried something incredibly interesting on this release: separating the folk elements from the black metal elements into two separate albums, culminating into one epic release. I was worried about this release feeling way too long, but I was shocked to find a release of this length so engaging. The black metal album features some awesome riffs, but the folk album sees Panopticon in a new and fascinating light. The alternation between fast folk music and slower cuts keeps the second album at the forefront of your attention even after it ends.
Favorite Tracks: The Moss Beneath The Snow, (Cowering) At The Foot Of The Mountain, Blåtimen, Sheep in Wolves Clothing
7. MGMT - Little Dark Age
MGMT released my favorite (spoiler alert) pop album of the year. The incredibly proficient synth work that culminates in a strange, dark album with catchy vocal leads and great guitar works makes for a listen that is fun, haunting, and introspective. Cuts like the title track, “Tslmap,” and “She Works Out Too Much” are just some of the best the duo has to offer, and don’t forget the David Bowie worship on “When You’re Small.” If you haven’t heard this album, you need to.
Favorite Tracks: Little Dark Age, Tslamp, When You’re Small
6. PORTAL - Ion
Ion is crushing. Ion is punishing. Ion is a tumble into an oppressive abyss that doesn’t let up even beyond its runtime. The chilling vocals and distorted guitars are paired with cacophonous drums and dark atmospheric passages that dizzy you unlike anything you have heard this year. In a word, this album is revolutionary. I only wish all death metal could be this good.
Favorite Tracks: Esp Ion Age, Olde Guarde, Husk
5. KIDS SEE GHOSTS - Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi joined forces to create my favorite hip-hop album of the year. The sounds on this album range from vibrant and beautiful atmosphere to rock to punishing and aggressive rap. I love the wide array of sounds in such a short and concise album.
Favorite Tracks: Feel the Love, 4th Dimension, Cudi Montage
4. MESARTHIM - The Density Parameter
Mesarthim is one of my favorite current black metal projects. Their unique blend of synth and black metal into a dancy and trance-inducing project is nothing short of fascinating. Their new release saw the project embrace more of the dance rhythms that are present in their music. A bold decision that paid off; this album is a work of art.
Favorite Tracks: Recombination, Ω, Collapse
3. UNDEROATH - Erase Me
Underoath, my favorite band of all time, dropped their return album—their first in 8 years and their first with Aaron behind the kit in 10 years. While some cuts on the album don’t reach the same heights that they reached in the past, there are some incredible cuts on this album that showcase the ferocity and drive that the band showed off in their mid-2000s releases. Even the most melodic cuts are something to behold, with “I Gave Up” being an Underoath that we have never heard, and I am excited to hear more from. It is really when Underoath tries to walk the line between these two sounds, things slip up. Luckily, there are very few cuts on this album where it seems they’re trying to do that.
Favorite Tracks: No Frame, In Motion, I Gave Up
2. BLACK TONGUE - Nadir
Nadir is the most crushing release of 2018. From the pounding instrumentals that take influence from deathcore, doom metal, black metal, and harsh noise to the lyrics that drag you to the area between “life and death and time,” Black Tongue make you see your innermost demons on this release, and there is no solace to be found at the end of the album.
Favorite Tracks: The Eternal Return to Ruin, Parting Soliloquy, Crippled Before the Dwelling Place of God
1. SILENT PLANET - When the End Began
When the End Began is this year’s best album. The entire package is perfect. The lyrics are moving and show an incredible amount of awareness in our current, messed-up world, and the storyline that is used to explore the different apocalypses that we may face is fascinating. Silent Planet have outdone every release of theirs. They have crafted an album that I believe is truly perfect.
Favorite Tracks: All of them, but Lower Empire is my favorite song of the year
Thank you so much for reading my top 20 albums of 2018! For my top 6 releases (and a few more), you can head over to my Instagram, @TheAncientHand, to read my more in-depth reviews.