12. CARL GENE “Feel EP”
Under the moniker of Naked, last year Baltimore’s Carl Gene dropped one of those scarce albums that change your perspective in music and, hopefully in life as well. Believe in me, I’ve been listening to the most depressive, oppressive and melancholic music for more than a decade, and last year Naked’s “Hopeless” topped as the most distressing music I’ve ever heard. With the slogan “offensively boring music”, Naked, makes most of the funeral doom metal and depressive black metal songs sound like heavy versions of REM’s “Shiny Happy People”. Carl Gene changed the name of his project to Naked Cult in late 2015 as far as I remember, to, finally, start putting out music under his own name in this 2016. He now offers the “Feel EP”, without acute modifications to his characteristic sound (which are good news for me).
Carl Gene just stands with his guitar and a nice number of pedals, softly plays repetitive melodies but adds distortion in some important moments and poignantly sings while rain falls throughout the album. No drums, no bass, no keyboards. The result is a very miserable, yet natural and sincere sound. Shoegazer freaks could probably “enjoy” what Carl Gene does due to the guitar effects and the soft, sometimes whispered vocals. As stated in his Bandcamp page, Carl Gene uses music as a conduit for dealing with his depression. And this is what makes his music so unique, in this EP you’ll find nothing but passion, real music with no trace of posercism. In some moments you can hear Carl’s dismay through his screams and noisy drone riffs, which sound heavier in this EP than in “Hopeless”. My only gripe is that the EP is extremely short: 22 minutes. I hope to keep on listening to more new stuff from this guy in the future.
11. CLOUDS “Departe”
Here’s the sophomore full-length album by Clouds, a project that, according to some interview with the band’s members, was not meant to go this far. However, Clouds, composed by members of well-known doom metal bands like Officium Triste, Eye of Solitude, Pantheist and Barren Earth, just to mention a few, had a truly successful debut in 2014 with “Doliu”, being praised by critics and the whole doom metal scene. The reason is that Clouds developed their own signature sound somehow different to that of any of the bands which the members belong. “Departe” makes no major changes and sounds like a continuation of “Doliu”. Here we have more extremely bleak and depressive music blessed with the brutal growls of Jón Aldará from Hamferð and Barren Earth perfectly alternating clean vocals. Jón, who, as far as I know, also writes the lyrics expresses a lot of sorrow and loss through very personal lyrics and an excellent live performance, which is not easy for singers that shift from growls to clean vocals in the studio. Kostas Panagiotou from Pantheist plays sorrowful piano tunes throughout the album, this is a key element since most of the songs open with these keyboards preparing the atmosphere for the crushing doom metal discharge. All these elements create a beautiful experience. The formula is still effective for this second album. In fact, opening track “How Can I Be There” is quite catching and “In the Ocean of My Tears”, with a stunning long introduction and female vocals, stands as the most melancholic song ever made by the band. If you enjoyed “Doliu”, you’ll love “Departe”, and basically if you’re into doom metal there is no doubt you should check this album.
10. CREMATORY “Monument”
2015 was not a good year for me. But it seems like Crematory also went through a bad situation in such a dreadful year. Their 2014’s “Antiserum” was not having a good reception, and I still regard it their weakest effort. But all bands have lows and highs, what in really fucked up 2015 was the departure of Matthias, who had delivered clean vocals and guitars since “Act Seven”, album released in 1999 and which defined the sound of the second period of Crematory’s style. According to interviews with the band, the possibility of calling it a day was contemplated. However, the remaining founder members pulled strength to hire new members, get into the studio and record a “Monument” to the band’s history. The result is this 13th full-length album featuring two new members who deliver a two-guitar sound and new clean vocals.
“Monument” is clearly heavier that “Antiserum”, but no more, since “Infinity” sounds heavier due to Matthias’ aim of playing “gothic thrash” in such album. “Monument” has a solid sound, with the band’s signature style, the outstanding brutal growls of Felix, the use of lyrics in both German and English and the catching melodies. The new clean singer sounds different, sometimes even scratching the heavy metal vocals style. “Haus mit Garten” is one of the most dynamic songs ever made by Crematory, while “Die so Soon” stands as the ultra-catching song of the album, in which the new clean singer effectively claims the respect of long term Crematory fans.
When Lotte left the band in 1999 an era of Crematory died, a second era started with Matthias and now we see the birth of a third period in the band's history. After the recording of “Monument” long-term bassist Heral also parted ways with the band. He had joined in “Just Dreaming”, 22 years ago! I hope Crematory continue for many years and I also hope fans realize that Crematory is one of those few bands from the 90s that is not throwing mediocre and uninspired albums nowadays.
9. BURIAL CHOIR “Iconoclast”
Last October Falls full-length album “The Plague of a Coming Age” had a clear doom metal influence. The album was closer to October Tide than to Agalloch. Seems like Lehto, the man behind October Falls has been pretty much into doom metal (at least) last years, and being a multi-instrumentalist allowed him to record a new album through which he could conduct his darkest and slowest doom metal affinities. The result is a new band, Burial Choir. And, yeah, it’s a band rather than a project, since a second member joined and now they are looking for a label. Their first output is available on Bandcamp and it’s entitled “Iconoclast”. Although the band warns that this is a promotional demo without proper artwork I enjoyed it too much like for not writing a couple of lines about it.
I love the name of the band, and the sound of this demo makes worth the band’s name: The music is slow, dark, depressive and mysterious, featuring an excellent funerary touch. Bells sound at the distance between tracks, preparing a consuming a gloomy atmosphere that can pair that one that Tristitia used to create. You may remember that dense keyboards throughout the songs and the church-like feeling in Tristitia’s “Garden of Darkness” and “One with Darkness”. Burial Choir develop a similar atmosphere, but the music in general is definitively different, with slow, sometimes raw, riffs, excellent guitar melodies and the Lehto’s vocals which sound between black metal screams and death metal growls. I’m really looking forward for this album to be released in physical format and also for Burial Chamber to continue doing this brand of murky doom metal.
8. CROSS VAULT “Miles to Take”
I am a huge doom metal fan, always trying to find out what’s new in the scene. But even with the advantages of internet, there are some well-hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This is one of those outstanding bands that are not that new but regretfully I had never listened to before. Cross Vault, hailing from Germany, play some excellent doom metal and they already have two full-length albums in their career. This year they dropped “Miles to Take”, a 2-track EP, and it finally approached my ears. Cross Vault plays traditional doom with a poignant epic feeling. The band delivers a style similar to that of Warning but with a suitable touch of Viking melancholy which makes them to stand out. With a well-inspired songwriting, Cross Vault includes slow riffs, weeping guitars and brilliant acoustic guitar passages. Vocals become a key element because they poignantly express that feeling of loss and torture. The singer makes an amazing execution which I could only compare with Thomas Erikson from the unfortunately defunct band Griftegard (I don’t know if he sings so expressively in Year of the Goat since I have never listened to that band). All I hear in this EP is passion, sincerity and melancholy. Fans of epic and traditional doom metal shouldn’t miss this one.
7. TREES OF ETERNITY “Hour of the Nightingale”
The tragedy of Trees of Eternity reminds us how unfair life can be. I remember 2013, when I first listened to “Black Ocean”, off their demo with the same name. I had no idea that Swallow the Sun’s guitarist, Raivio, was involved, my attention drew to the soft enigmatic vocals of Aleah. After a few listens to the demo anyone could conclude that the project had an important future ahead. Expectations increased when the Norrman brothers, from the best era of Katatonia, joined the band. Reading the devastating news of Aleah’s passing saddens us not only because of the loss of an amazing singer in doom metal, but also because nobody deserves the cruelty of such illness. And Raivio, in the middle of his grieving, pulled strength to put out “Hour of the Nightingale”, which was planned to be Trees of Eternity’s debut.
“Hour of the Nightingale” is quite a melancholic album, but metalheads not familiar with the doom metal genre may actually also enjoy this album. The reason is its dynamism, it’s not a monolithic piece of slow metal. Here is where Raivio’s songwriting style is noted due to some clear similarities to Swallow the Sun, a band that sometimes reaches the mid-tempo gothic metal sound. The rich sound of the album includes excellent melancholic guitar melodies, I don’t know if Fredrik Norrman took part of the song-writing, but some October Tide-influenced riffs and solos can be detected. Of course, the beautiful atmosphere of “Hour of the Nightingale” is crowned by Aleah’s unique voice, which is not intended to be operatic (like it’s usual in gothic doom), Aleah’s voice is rather soft and ethereal, sometimes almost whispered, closer to Lethian Dream’s Carline. She sings with a shattering sadness through impressive lyrics full of hopelessness. The overwhelming atmosphere surrounding this album and the excellent songwriting make it an essential album of the modern era of doom metal. Aleah will always live, sharing her astounding voice through this album.
6. UNTIL DEATH OVERTAKES ME “Well of Dreams”
Stijn van Cauter may be mad to know that this album makes someone happy. But is true, I am actually glad to know that Until Death Overtakes Me is back from the dead after a 5-year hiatus. These have not been good years for funeral doom, some important bands split up, Pantheist departed from the genre, after listening to what Aarni is now doing understanding Twin Peaks is no longer a puzzle, the guys behind one-man projects Amaranthine Trampler, Torture Wheel, Kairi, Lord Grief, Reclusiam, Catacombs and Dusk ov Shadows were apparently abducted by aliens and they left no trace. Somehow we are lucky to still have Esoteric and Sketicism around. It is sad that the current funeral doom metal scene seems to be full of generic one-man projects who believe that all they have to do in funeral doom is to play as slow, heavy and ugly as possible, which was not true back in the day. Stijn van Cauter is back here but from all his projects only Until Death Overtakes Me is back to life. In the Nulll website, van Cauter explains that Until Death Overtakes Me now will cluster up all his other projects which included but were not limited to Fall of the Grey-Winged One, I Dream No More, The Ethereal, The Organium and Beyond Black Void. And with this statement in mind, we witnessed the release of a series of singles this year, each of which I enjoyed with the proper nostalgia of a funeral doom metal fan. These singles were gathered in a compilation called “Well of Dreams”. These songs bring back the unique style of Until Death Overtakes Me, that extremely dark blend of ambient darkwave and funeral doom metal: ambient music contrasting with ultra-heavy and slow riffs and brutal growls, mostly lacking of drums. The debris of I Dream No More can be contemplated in “Magistralis”, with the space doom feeling in the track, while opening “Days Without Hope” sounds like taken from previous releases of Until Death Overtakes Me. The compilation is actually more varied than the previous full-length albums. It even features an acoustic guitar in “Ancient Light”. While the album sounds definitely like a renovated Until Death Overtakes Me I don’t think any of his old fans would not enjoy this compilation of tracks. A full-length album entitled “AnteMortem” is to be physically released by Dusktone. I am eager to listen to such first full-length after the project’s hiatus.
5. THE TEMPLE “Forevermourn”
Being yet a specific sub-subgenre, epic doom metal encompasses three different kinds of bands... At least that’s the way I setup my playlists! First we have the very epic Viking bands whose members play swords instead of guitars, like Doomsword and Scald. Then we have the religious bands like Griftegard and Forsaken. And, finally, a small group of epic doomsters play melancholic and personal doom metal in the vein of Warning and Isole. But, with Warning diseased and Isole infected with poisonous progressive metal, running into a worth-listening band fitting this last classification is not an easy-going issue. Hailing from Greece, The Temple self-released their first EP “As Once Was” last year and it quickly became one of my favorite albums of 2015. After some months I read on Facebook that the band had been signed by I Hate Records, which is a pretty cool label. Accordingly, I Hate put out The Temple’s debut this year. “Forevermourn”, one of the best titles I’ve ever heard, probably resembling Isole’s milestone “Forevermore”.
Epic doom is not about heaviness or extreme suicidal atmosphere. This is why it is not simple to create an effective atmosphere in the genre. The Temple know this, and they utterly nailed it in “Forevermourn”, since the they have these two important highlights: First, the melodies are just perfect, very natural weeping guitars through mid to down tempo drums and riffs. And second, but not less important, the singer has a very particular vocal style, completely unique. Far from the typical high-pitched tone, vocals are rather melancholic and expressive, also featuring an excellent arrangement in their interaction with the guitar melodies. The track “Beyond the Stars”, in my opinion, reaches perfection in this style of doom with a perfect balance of melancholy, honesty and melody. I hope this is the first of many excellent albums by The Temple, a band that deserves becoming an important name in the genre.
4. 40 WATT SUN “Wider than the Sky”
The evolution of Patrick Walker’s work achieves a new stage with this long awaited follower to 40 Watt Sun’s “The Inside Room”, which became my favorite album of 2011. Whilst Walker has stated that he kindly asked Cyclone Empire not to promote “The Inside Room” as a doom metal album, it was clear that, by the time, his fanbase was purely made up of Warning fans waiting for a descendant of “Watching from a Distance”. Nevertheless, “The Inside Room” had that folk rock feeling that built a gap between traditional doom metal and 40 Watt Sun, but still delighting our ears with highly distorted guitars. Released under Walker’s own label, “Wider than the Sky” strips out the sound of 40 Watt Sun, getting rid of any distorted riff and leaving a soft and charming melody in each long track. This sounds like a familiar story for us doom metal fans, since bands usually depart from the genre after a couple of albums. However, 40 Watt Sun is an example of these quite a few bands that evolve without losing their emotional impact and inspiration. “Wider than the Sky” is not a happy album, it features that unique songwriting style developed by Walker since the Warning era: that introspective, personal and emotional style in both lyrics and music. I had the opportunity of giving the first listen to this album while being played live by 40 Watt Sun, the atmosphere was outstanding, filled with melancholy, but also nostalgia and a bit of hope. Walker usually makes this kind of albums that are perfect to be played while walking a city far from home. Musically, “Wider than the Sky”, is of course slow, with Walker’s distinctive poignant vocals and a nice combination of clear electric and acoustic guitars. Some people may relate this album to Minnesota’s Low or the saddest songs made by Idaho. Moscow-based doomsters A Young Man’s Funeral evolved in a similar direction in their last album “Redemption”. What is true is that Patrick Walker keeps on developing genuine music that doom metal fans can still enjoy due to its melancholic nature. “Wider than the Sky” is a third masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed by any fan of melancholic music.
3. THE MORNINGSIDE “Yellow”
I remember 2014, when BadMoodMan released the brand new The Morningside album, “Letters from the Empty Towns”. The band that had caught me in 2007 with that beautiful album with a forest of conifers on its cover art had departed from their signature style of melodic death/doom metal, to venture in progressive metal lands. Even though “Letters…” was not a bad album, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed, since progressive metal has taken the soul of a scary number of bands that traded melancholy and inspiration for convoluted riffs. Look what they did to Katatonia, who stood as my favorite band for more than a decade until this year when they dropped an album that I still cannot understand. This 2016, Solitude Productions announced the release of the latest The Morningside opus, “Yellow”, and the amazing record label described it as a “return to the style of the second full-length album, ‘Moving Crosscurrent of Time’”. A ready-witted description! I immediately ordered the album, because “Yellow” brings back the post-rock clean guitars, the gorgeous melodies, the doom metal feeling, and that unique autumn atmosphere which made “Missing Day” the most played song in my iPod this autumn. The album has some progressive sparks in some solos, but it never reaches the progressive death metal frown of “Letters”.
Every time I start listening to this album I end up listening to it as a whole. One never gets enough of “Yellow”, because it is extremely well executed, the melodies are perfect, and the use of both, clean and harsh vocals and acoustic passages are an extra point to the dynamism of the album. A must have for fans of Agalloch, Katatonia, Akelei and October Tide.
2. ALCEST “Kodama”
I imagine Neige sitting in his room these last 2 years since “Shelter” was released, watching in his laptop the birth of dozens of bands trying to imitate the legacy that he had built before “Shelter”; lots of guys recording in their rooms amateur uninspired versions of Alcest, feeding on the melancholy that sheds from “Souvenirs d'un autre monde”. Blackgaze, a genre whose father abandoned, now a number of new bands fighting to occupy the throne Neige had quitted. Some may call me crazy, but I blame Neige for the rebirth of the shoegazing genre (not blackgaze), which was back in 2007 considered a defunct genre. Neige not only introduced shoegaze to metalheads, but it is also suspicious that since 2007 the number of pure shoegazing bands rose until these days when the genre is quite popular, mostly controlled by hipsters though. What is not in discussion is that Neige gave a new horizon to metal and now post-metal and black metal blend with shoegaze every day. It is important, however, to mention that quite a few blackgaze and post-black metal projects have been able to evidence originality and inspiration, I could only mention Lantlos, Clouds Collide, Sylvaine and Cold World. And while Deafheaven was earning popularity playing in every hipster festival, Alcest returned to put order and to show how blackgaze is played in its most perfect form.
“Shelter” was far from being a bad album. It could actually be considered the fourth masterpiece by the band. But what we love from Alcest is that signature sound that combines black metal and shoegaze, the soaring unique screams of Neige and the dynamic drumming of Winterhalter. And while I was thinking that it would take at least three albums for Alcest to return to their roots, I listened to “Oiseaux De Proie”, the first song Prophecy Records revealed, and it just made my day! The new album “Kodama” can be placed between “Écailles de Lune” and “Les Voyages de L'âme”. It brings back the distortion in guitars, the beautiful black metal riffs, the blast beats and, of course, the outstanding raw screams. But melody is one of the most important aspects in Alcest, and this is the point that Neige has always earned and a reason to also love “Shelter”. Melodies are stunning in this new album, as in every Alcest record, they depict the beauty of melancholy with proper limitations, without sounding cheesy. Neige seems to sing in a more characteristic way, especially in “Je Suis D'Ailleurs”. Winterhalter sounds amazing in this album with an ultra-dynamic performance moving from modern Anathema’s energetic style to a black metal drummer.
The whole record represents a perfect balance between beauty and violence. I believe Alcest has accomplished their aim again and has dropped another masterpiece. We are really grateful with Neige for coming back to the genre he coined and forged for years. It is also striking how Alcest has been doing excellent full-length albums for almost 10 years, without losing a single spark of inspiration.
1. NOVEMBRE “URSA”
2016 was a nostalgic year. I found myself dusting off my old CDs and searching on internet the whereabouts of bands that I had not listened to in a long time. It turned out that most of them either split up or are playing quite different music. For a reason that I still cannot understand I had not listened to the Italian metal outfit Novembre in quite a long time. In fact, I only knew their second output “Arte Novecento”, and the song “Venezia Dismal” because I bought the compilation “Beuty in Darkness vol. 6” in 2002, so this band is pure nostalgia for me. It turned out that Novembre had dropped a new album in April through Peaceville Records. My expectations were low, quite a few bands from the 90s are still playing good music with the feeling they had in such a glorious decade. I totally understand it, it’s been 20 long years. But in a similar way that Amorphis do, Novembre is luckily still playing the same style with the same feeling. Maybe I don’t have the right to talk about Novembre’s evolution through years since “Arte Novecento” is definitely different. As far as I know, Novembre’s milestone is 1999’s “Classica”. But what I can actually do is to tell you that I had the same feeling listening to new Novambre, called “URSA”, as I felt when I first listened to “Venezia Dismal”: it’s melancholic music, full of beauty, perfect exection, perfect vocals, growls in the climax of the song… oh boy, all this is still present in “URSA”.
Long-term drummer Giuseppe Orlando, actually a founder member, parted ways with the band before the recording of “URSA”. This could have negatively affected the band since drums are a key element of Novembre, especially in “Arte Novecento”, whose drumming is that of a progressive metal album. In this new record, drums were taken over by Stormlord drummer David Folchitto. He delivers an excellent sound, with his double bass in the most violent moments. The recording of drums and the mix of the album (performed by omnipresent Dan Swanö) make drums sound a little similar to some 80s songs, which I actually love. But probably the two aspects that I have always found haunting of this band are Carmelo Orlando’s vocals and the melancholic atmosphere made artistic sound: Carmelo’s vocals are perfect in this album, I find awesome the fact that he never gave up his growls, and there are plenty of them in this album. The overall atmosphere is beautiful and artistic, the polymorphic aspect of Novembre’s style of metal makes you never get bored through the more that 60 minutes that the album runs. Excellent melodies in clean guitars blending with riffs (probably not heavy ones) are also a key element to paint this picture. Anders Nyström from Katatonia fame plays guitars in the single “Annoluce”. Being label partners, some comparisons between Novembre and Katatonia had been made after the release of “URSA”. Despite similarities are clear, Novembre have a very unique style and so do Katatonia, although the latter has been moving towards progressive rock in their last two albums.
The homonymous track “URSA” is my favorite song of the year. It is a flawless, perfect track. But what make it so irresistible are the unpredictable changes throughout the song. The melodies and songwriting are stunning and describe a rollercoaster of violence, beauty and melancholia. This feeling is actually present in the whole album. Which is elaborated and complicated, but it doesn’t sound like a progressive metal aggression with the musicians showing off their skills, Novembre rather creates an artistic picture: it’s about beautiful melancholia rather than a bunch of convoluted riffs and drumming.
This is, in my opinion, the best album of the year, truly a masterpiece. All I hear here is nostalgia. “URSA” leaves a 90s and early 2000s taste in your tongue. Novembre’s inspiration has survived to the bad stage of the current metal scene and I hope they never give up to their signature sound.