Legendary musician, Steven Wilson, has just released his latest EP, 4 1/2. It is a a collection of B-Sides that were not ready or just did not make the mark for Wilson's latest album, 2015's Hand. Cannot. Erase. and even in the writing sessions of 2013's The Raven That Refused To Sing. As it is evident by the title. This serves as a companion piece to Hand. Cannot. Erase. and is definitely implying that album 5 will be released in the future. Would any of the song's have fit in those albums? ABSOLUTELY! But this serves a great reminder that Wilson wants to release any music that he thinks is worth checking out. Let's see what 6 songs are deserving to be heard in 2016.
The EP starts with My Book Of Regrets. Easily the best song on the EP. I had the pleasure of hearing this song (When it was originally untitled) back in early June 2015 in Minneapolis. A few days later, I also had the pleasure of doing an interview with Steven 2 days later over the phone where he first let me in that an EP was in the works that would include this and other songs that didn't make the cut for the new album. I was so excited when i heard this song would be included because it is one of the best things he has ever written, especially now that is a complete song. The song was recorded in late June 2015. The song starts off in the Porcupine Tree realm. It reminds you of Time Flies off PT's last album, The Incident, but poppier and proggier at times(if that even makes sense) and not as musically dark. The middle instrumental solo sections are really something to behold before entering a mellow atmospheric section that makes you feel like floating away. Towards the end of the song, it gets back to the original section of the song and leaves on a floating note. Year Of The Plague is an instrumental piece that oddly enough, sounds like the mellow sections off of Ne Obliviscaris' latest album, Citadel. Synth string sections mixed with acoustic guitar, bass and piano. Happiness III starts off with acoustic guitar before kicking into another pop-driven proggy song. The song is very much in the vibe of PT's In Absentia, which makes since because it was originally written in 2003. Take out the heavy parts of the song Trains and replace it with more twang, and you got it! Sunday Rain Sets In is another, moody, instrumental track. Very depressing sounding and give an eerie vibe. Towards the end of the song it picks up for just a few seconds with distortion, bass drums, etc but then settles back down closing out the track. Vermillioncore is oddly enough not a Metalcore, Deathcore, hardcore, or Djent song, but rather a a midtempo song in the vein of Halo off of 2005's Deadwing by Porcupine Tree. Just heavier, moodier, and instrumental. The EP concludes with a cover of Porcupine Tree's Don't Hate Me off the 1999's Lightbulb Sun. The song, recorded live, also features a very strong appearance on the chorus from Israeli vocalist, Ninet Tayeb (who is also featured on Hand. Cannot. Erase.). The song is structurally the same, but with the addition of the female vocals, it gives a very different vibe that is definitely a love it or hate it situation. I am of the love it side. The middle, instrumental section is a bit more spread out than the original version. it features much more organ than the original and give more of a Pink Floyd vibe than done previously. Overall a fantastic rendition.
4 1/2 has left some fans polarized and some wanting more. The ones polarized don't appreciate that the EP coasts about the same as a full album and also, more notably, the cover of Don't Hate Me. While others believe that the EP is sheer brilliance and the only disappointment is that they have to hit the play button again to start it all over. I am closer to the latter. The beginning and end of the EP are worth the price of admission alone. I'm not entirely sold on most of the middle of the EP but they serve as great instrumental segue ways through the EP. Overall, I highly recommend checking this EP out. Steven Wilson is at the top of his game and I can't imagine him slowing down any time soon. And if he has this kind of material left over, there's is no reason to ever stop until the tank is empty.
Steven Wilson- 4 1/2 available NOW via Kscope Records!
So here we are, part 6 of 7 of the top 100 albums of the year. I'll save my big speech for the last segment of this countdown and just get right into the first half of the top 20.
*DUE TO A VERY DUMB ERROR ON MY LIST, THERE IS TECHNICALLY 21 ALBUMS ON MY LIST. TO BE FAIR TO THE BAND I ACCIDENTALLY LEFT OFF, I WILL NOT MENTION THE BAND IN QUESTION. I'LL JUST CALL THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS: 20.A AND 20.B*
20.A) Dekadent- Veritas
FFO- If Devin Townsend made Black Metal
There is no better way I can describe it. It's got the technical and progressive elements that we all know and love about Devin Townsend mixed with the Blast Beats, Tremolo picking and evilness that is Black Metal. It's a great mixture of both that makes of a Black Metal experience you've never heard before. I am amazed I never heard these guys before this album and I can't wait to see what's in store for the next release. This albums combines two things I very much love and it's makes it absolute perfection. I can't ask for anything more!
20.B) Gruesome- Savage Land
FFO- A Tribute to the band, Death
Some call it a ripoff of Death. I (and every single person involved with Death and Gruesome) know it as a love letter to the first few albums in the legendary career of Death. Right before Death entered their proggier stages, the band was one of the first bands to get notoriety for playing...Death Metal. Fast, heavy, melodic and harmonic at the right moments. Matt Harvey and company set out to recapture that love of Death Metal and pay tribute to Death and of course, the legendary Chuck Schuldiner. Besides the obvious nods to the band, the music just captures what made late 80s-early 90s Death Metal one of the best genres in Metal. No need to be over the top technical, no need for brutal break downs. Just dark, fast, heavy, evil Metal done as it should be. I'd rather have a million bands rip off Death then a hundred bands just showing off how awesome they are at their instrument with no substance behind it at all. Even if this is just a one off appearance, Gruesome shows everyone that in Metal that sometimes less is more, and that is for the better.
19.) Izah- Sistre
FFO- Atmospheric Sludge Metal
A discovery I made early in the year and I couldn't be happier that I did. Some Sludge Metal is just low tuned,. slow and heavy just to be that way. Some atmospheric music is just to add keyboard chords behind guitar riffs to take away the fact that there is no substance behind the music. Izah takes the best elements of both, created monster epics (including the 31 minute title track) and put out an emotionally driven, heavy and outstanding release. This album has been very under the radar (I've yet to see anyone that I know personally talk about this album) and that is a complete shame. Sistre gives life to this style of music you didn't know needed to happen. Sludge, Post Rock, and Hardcore being made to fit those that needed to be made. I hope others take notice. This is not an album to pass by.
18.) Arcane- Known/Learned
FFO- Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, Alternative Metal
My favorite discovery from Australia this year. While many bands from Australia have the obvious Tool inspiration, Arcane does have some of that, but completely expands upon it. Part Tool, part Dream Theater, part Anathema, part Fair To Midland. This double disc album is brilliant from start to finish. Known (Disc 1) is much more focused on the Prog side of the band while Learned (Disc 2) is focused on the mellow side of the band with many acoustic sections. The whole experience is not to be missed. I hope one day they get big enough to hit the US, if not, I'll always have the music!
17.) Cattle Decapitation- The Anthropocene Extinction
FFO- Technical Progressive Death Metal, Grindcore
Cattle Decapitation has come a long way from their brutal Grindcore roots and specifically with their last few releases, have really let their latter day Prog and Technical Death Metal attributes shine through. While this is a very sad point for many long-term fans, for me, it is a 100% welcomed change. I enjoy brutal stuff, I really do, but I can't in a whole release from a band in one sitting without getting bored. There's gotta be substance behind it. Anaal Nathrakh is a perfect example. Their latest releases since adding melodies and harmonies are so much better than their brutal for the sake of being brutal albums. Cattle Decapitation's clean vocals (very Devin Townsend-esque) are also very polarizing for some, but to me, work beautifully. It's not hard to imagine that a band this long in the game would want to switch things up and not create the same album over and over again. I truly appreciate a band that is willing to try something different and pull it off. These guys have been pulling it off now and perfecting it on every release since. I can't imagine that the next release won't even be better with these idea in mind!
16.) Deafheaven- New Bermuda
Without question, the most polarizing band in Black Metal. It's not too often I hear someone say "Meh, it's ok, I guess". It's either pure love or pure hatred. I am of the former. I've been a fan since Roads to Judah (right before the hipsters caught wind of the band with Sunbather). With New Bermuda, the band starts to showcase more than they have before with still having the Post Rock, Shoegaze, and Atmospheric moments but also incorporating more of the Black Metal style once again with some prog moments as well and even Hard Rock moments (pretty much all of Baby Blue, including the Load/Reload era Metallica influenced guitar solo). The band is trying to expand upon what they are known for and that is always appreciated. You are either on board with Deafheaven or you are not. I'm sure I'll get judged my elitists for either liking Deafheaven or on the opposite end of the spectrum, not having it in the top 10. But that's the thing. My list order isn't for everyone. I love covering as much ground as I can with my personal tastes in music and the list in 100% based on what I enjoy the most (as wide and as much as that is). So...there you go!
15.) Steven Wilson- Hand. Cannot. Erase.
FFO- Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, Electronic Rock
I'm amazed as some of you are that Steven Wilson is only number 15 on my list. But I just happened to find 14 other albums that hit home for me more this time around. The album is inspired by a very dark, true story of a women in London who died in her apartment and was not found for 3 years even with the fact that she had family and friends, no one noticed. While the album is not a retelling of that, it is easily one of the darkest albums Steven Wilson has ever written. The song Routine, is the prime example of that with the story of a mother, who lost her family in a school shooting, keeping up her everyday routine of cooking and cleaning the house, as if nothing happened. The album, musically, sounds a lot happier than previous Steven Wilson solo albums, but again, musically, that couldn't be further from the truth. Everyone on the album is in prime form and it is an amazing adventure. For those that don't like the heavier Steven Wilson releases, this may be a great starter album for you. Otherwise, this is just another solid album from this legendary musician.
14.) Arcturus- Arcturian
FFO- Avant Garde Metal, Progressive Metal, Symphonic Black Metal
This amazing supergroup is at it again with their first release in a decade. The whole album is a complete mind screw reaching moments of Symphonic Black Metal, Industrial, Avant Garde, and so much more. The album borders on being a hodgepodge of sound, but magnificently never reaches that level. Upon repeated listens, it all makes sense. This is not an album for the faint of heart, nor an album that is for those unfamiliar with the genre. It is a twisted, symphonic mind screw that leaves you screaming for more if you can stay on for the ride. I feel so honored I got to see Arcturus this year at Maryland Deathfest and I hope it's a real sign of things to come that the band, may be back for the long haul.
13.) Paradise Lost- The Plague Within
FFO- Gothic Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal
This was also another album that was number 1 for me for a very long time, but unfortunately did not make the cut of Top 10 this year. That said it is easily the best Paradise Lost album to date. This has everything that a fan of the band would want. The growls of the early albums, the electronics and hard rock moments of the mid era of the career, the doom metal of both the near and first era of the band, and all this while still maintaining to stay fresh and not rehashed. It is rare to hear a band this inspired. It may be in part of the members of the band being able to do their side projects (Bloodbath, Vallenfyre, At The gates, etc) and coming back stronger than ever. This is how it's done folks. For a Gothic Metal album that won't want to make you slit your wrists, look no further than one of the originators of how Gothic Metal is done!
12.) Baroness- Purple
FFO- Sludge Metal, Progressive Rock, Alternative Metal
The return album from the band that nearly lost their lives in a heinous tour van accident has revitalized the band to make their best work to date. While half of the the lineup of the accident left the band, the remaining half including frontman, John Baizley, have their batteries recharged with a new rhythm section and lust for life. Every Baroness album is based on colors (as you may have guessed from the title of this album) and this time around, it makes since. The album hearkens back to their early releases of Red Album and Blue Record, while maintaining the more accessibility of the double release Yellow & Green. The second single from the album Shock Me and even more so, the first single Chlorine & Wine are some of the strongest songs in the band's career. It is fantastic to see a band to come back stronger than ever from such a horrific moment. There is no stopping this band now!
11.) Subterranean Masquerade- The Great Bazaar
FFO- Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, Middle Eastern Folk, Symphonic
One of the most underground supergroups in Metal. Consisting of members of Green Carnation, Novembers Doom, Orphaned Land. This band combines a powerhouse performance for the band's 2nd album a decade after their debut album Suspended Animated Dreams in 2005. The album is layered in Folk, Symphonic, and Progressive moments while there are moments of screams and growls, they are used for effect (and done perfectly at that). I really wish more people knew about this band, because they deserve as much love as they can get. While there are a couple other Prog albums that beat this album out on my list, this is by far the best album of my top 20 to showcase worldwide diversity all while making everything make sense and such an enjoyable experience. If you are not familiar with the band, yet like anything I just mentioned.....CHECK THESE GUYS OUT RIGHT NOW!!!!!.....!
COMING UP NEXT.......THE TOP 10!
Opeth makes a triumphant return with their 11th album, Pale Communion. Many people consider their 9th album Watershed to be...well...a watershed moment. It marked a transitioning point for the band where the Death Metal aesthetic of the band was slipping away for a more Progressive Rock feel and Mikael Akerfeldt's Death Metal growls had disappeared since their last album Heritage. Many people gave up on the band at that point feeling that the band had jumped the shark musically. So with that being a strong case for a lot of former Opeth fans, they are skeptical of what the band would be putting out next.
The band has made it their niche to make evil sounding music whether it is from their beginning of Orchid, to their mid career point (at least so far) Blackwater Park, to arguably their most crowd pleasing and highly regarded album, Ghost Reveries.
Pale Communion is no different. Lyrically, Opeth is just as dark and evil as ever. Vocally, the Death Metal growls are still gone. Maybe one day they will return, but much like albums like Damnation and Heritage, there is no need for them here. The album starts off (Eternal Rains Will Come, Cusp Of Eternity, Moon Above, Sun Below) much in a way that parts of Ghost Reveries, Watershed and Heritage go, where it is sinister in a heavier Progressive Rock feel without the need to go into Death Metal territory. It still has some Heritage vibe to it, but unlike Heritage, it more rocking and upbeat. Elysian Woes sounds like a track that was taken straight from the Damnation days, a great somber ballad placed in a great spot on the album. Goblin has been said by Akerfeldt, to be heavily inspired by the band Goblin, and indeed it is. The song is all instrumental, just like Goblin, and showcases the evil that 70s Progressive Rock can be. River starts off with an acoustic into and beautiful vocal harmonies. The song eventually picks up a bit, but not in a Hard Rock but very much like a mid-era Porcupine Tree (Signify-Lightbulb Sun) song would be. Although Porcupine Tree frontman, Steven Wilson mixed the album, he did not help write any of the songs, but Akerfeldt was indeed inspired by Wilson. The second half of River goes back into the evil 70s Progressive Rock and gets into one of the darkest and heaviest riffs of the album. Voice Of Treason starts off with very ominous keyboards followed by a very Ghost Reveries inspired song riff. the song is one of the most upbeat on the album and one of the few instances of double bass on the album (although only used in one riff about 3/4ths through the song). the song ends how it begins with ominous keyboards with segue ways into the final track, Faith In Others. This is another track that really focuses on the somber side of the band with it's slower-mid tempo stylings. It starts off much like their song, Burden, and mid way through goes into a keyboard (piano)/vocal break with leads into the classic Opeth signature tone for ballads. 3/4ths into the song it has a grandiose orchestral moment what is one of the best moments in any Opeth song, finally closing into a slow and somber end to the album with keyboards and strings and Akerfeldt's final words for the album.
Clocking in at 55;38, Opeth's 11th opus is nothing short of what many will consider to be a miraculous comeback album. If you are one of those who only like Opeth for the Balls and Chunk Heavy side of Opeth, again, you will be disappointed. If you dig Opeth's 70's Prog side that they experimented with on Watershed and on the most with Heritage, this will be to your fancy. But more so than anything, if you enjoy the dark, somber stylings of Damnation, the clean sections of Ghost Reveries, and of course Watershed and Heritage, this album is for you. To put it best, this is the album that should have came out after Watershed.
Opeth- Pale Communion (Roadrunner Records) Release Date: August 26th, 2014
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)