Top 25 of 2016: #9 Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered

Pinkshinyultrablast – Grandfeathered
(Club AC30)

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Shoegaze is a style of music rife with melancholy. Somber songs alluding to heartbreak, empty beds, and lonely nights are the norm, with songs featuring hazy guitars, saturated in rich effects. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with it, in can lead to music that’s more about aesthetic than substance. Fortunately, there are bands that think outside of convention, and just want to have fun. Hailing from the cold, northern landscapes of Saint Petersburg, Russia comes Pinkshinyultrablast, and the happiest shoegaze band on the planet. The band has been around since 2007, but didn’t release their debut album, Everything Else Matters, until 2015. To my surprise, their follow up, Grandfeathered, was released just a year later. In that short time, that band has been some noticeable changes in their sound.

From the start it’s immediately clear the band is experimenting with new sounds. The first track “Initial” is completely electronic, fusing the ethereal nature of synth pop with the choppy vocal samples of early cloud rap. This sonic exploration is then followed up by the rocking nature of “Glow Vastly”, combining the usual glimmering, airy textures one expects from Pinkshiny with riffs that aren’t unlike those of early NWOBHM bands. The rest of the album retains the same carefree energy, with songs full of bright, sunny guitar work, and prancing rhythms that make me want to run through a field of sunflowers. Each song is full of catchy hooks and undeniable grooves that will have smiling and bobbing your head along to the beat. In addition to the fun and playful melodies coming from guitar and bass, synthesizer is more present on this album, adding another layer of to the bliss. It should be also mentioned that the bass player carries the majority of the melodic content present on these songs, with guitars usually focusing and playing noisy chords. There’s plenty of riffs in odd time signatures, proving Pinkshinyultrablast are one of the most musically inclined bands in the shoegaze sphere. The vocals are breezy and atmospheric, splitting the clouds in the sky and showering down like an angel’s chorus.

Overall, Pinkshinyultrablast take everything good about shoegaze and inject an irresistible sense of wonderment and happy-go-lucky vibes with cheerful and engaging sense of melody and structure. While other bands conjure images of sunbathing on a warm summer day with their music, Pinkshinyultrablast conjure images of running around carefree with your closet friends on summer break, venturing to faraway lands and soaking in the sun.

Top 25 of 2016: #14 Arizmenda – Beneath This Reality Of Flesh

Arizmenda – Beneath This Reality of Flesh
(Crepúsculo Negro)

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My introduction to Arizmenda was seeing the band perform at last year’s Eternal Warfare Festival. Knowing only that they’re a Black Twilight Circle entity, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from their set. I was completely blown away by some of the most violent and twisted black metal I’ve ever heard. Front man Murdunbad’s performance was among the most intense I’ve witnessed, frantically running around the stage, jumping in the crowd, getting in people’s faces, rolling around on the floor, and not to mention, bleeding everywhere, as he had an open gash on his left arm. I’ve never been more shocked by a performance, and I only craved more after it was over. Since I’ve been visiting Arizmenda’s back catalog and the two most recent albums.

Arizmenda released two albums in 2016, Beneath This Reality Of Flesh and Despairs Depths Descended. The latter was released in late December, so naturally I spent more time listening to Beneath This Reality Of Flesh, although both albums are awesome. Arizmenda’s strain of unkempt black metal is malignant and depraved. Spiraling guitars lay a foundation over which dissonant and jarring guitar leads are layered, pulling the listener down to depths of the mind unknown. The screaming on this album are pained and tormented. The use of delay on the vocals makes each scream feel like the most repulsive and demented recesses of the id that echo in the mind. This music feels like an exorcist of the most vile emotions and vices that plague our life. With all the forces of negativity present, there is a very real tension to the music, but in its most violent and chaotic moments there is a glimmer of pure ecstasy and catharsis. The only way I can describe it is the relief of no longer feeling filthy after peeling off your own skin. In short, this is some of the most unsettling, uncomfortable, raw, and fucked up black metal out there. Not recommend for those haven’t transcended this reality of flesh.

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Top 25 of 2016: #15 Krallice – Hyperion

Krallice – Hyperion
(Gilead Media)

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Krallice have been on an absolutely incredible streak. In less than two years they have released 3 of their most cohesive and succinct records to date. While Ygg huur and Prelasparian are monumental efforts, chock-full of mind-bending, face-melting hyper-technical riffing of the most elite order, Hyperion is the most rewarding of the three. Spread across three tracks, Hyperion is a complete deviation in sound compared to any of their other releases. Hypnotic atmosphere is the impetus for the material here. Krallice trade virtuosic riffs for long, layered droning guitar passages. The technical emphasis lays more in the rhythmic and harmonic components of the music. Blast beats carry the song, ascending through streams of harmonized guitar and bass, flowing seamlessly through odd phrasing, changing rhythms, and short melodic motifs. While there are certainly aggressive moments on the record, the music rarely accelerates, and the songs retain the same pulse through their entirety. The meditative nature of these songs also leads to lush, mystifying drones, whether played on physical instruments or synthesizer. Overall, Hyperion proves to be one of Krallice’s most unique releases yet, proving that even at their most hypnotic and subdued, Krallice are capable of writing the some of the most engaging and fulfilling atmospheric black metal available to our ears. It’s hard to believe they recorded this in 2013 and let is sit around for almost 3 years before releasing it.

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Top 25 of 2016: #16 Cetacean – Breach | Submerge

Cetacean – Breach|Submerge
(Apes Who Looked Up)

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               Cetacean is a post-metal band from Los Angeles. Taking their name from the clade that comprises dolphins and whales, the title of their debut, Breach | Submerge, release serves not only as a nod to the majestic nature of the animals that inspired their name, but can also be seen as an analogy for the “quiet-to-loud” nature of their music. Ranging from down right monolithic riffing to elegantly layered ambience, Cetacean’s music falls into many parts of the spectrum that is human emotion. The way the album starts reminds me of a prelude, touching on many themes that will be present in the rest of the music. As soon as the record starts you’re met with gentle cymbal washes and soft, harmonically unstable guitar playing that sounds like a primordial soup. Soon after the rest of the band starts running through various jazz harmonies as someone takes a smooth af sax solo. Unfortunately this is the only time on the record that the saxophone shows up. The rest of the record displays the band’s ability to easily weave together the heavy riffing of sludge metal and post-hardcore with soft, introspective instrumental passages that breath melancholy.

One thing I really like that Cetacean does is incorporate many different vocal approaches. Their main vocalist does a great job of varying his screaming techniques from a standard post-metal yell, to deep gutturals, and higher pitched screams for sections that the band goes slightly black metal with blast beats. Another great thing they do is layer wordless, ethereal singing on top of the music, which juxtaposes nicely with the darker moments of the music. Cetacean really shines in the way their music come from dark trudges and blossoms into something very powerful and majestic. The album retains a consistent theme but each song has it’s own unique form, which definitely aids in making the record an engaging experience. Overall I’d say Cetacean whipped up a very refreshing take to post-metal that breaks convention without sounding forced or contrived. I can’t wait to hear what direction the band goes in next.

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Top 25 of 2016: #17 Moonknight – Zhora

Moonknight – Zhora
(Rising Beast Recordings)

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         One-man bands are no rarity in black metal. I’ve already talked about two in my Top 25 and Moonknight certainly won’t be the last one. Unlike many albums release by one-man bands, Zhora is an incredibly dynamic, emotive, and eclectic. One could describe these songs raw and depressive, and they would be right to do so, but that doesn’t fully capture how many different styles are present on Zhora. No one tracks sounds a like on this album. The album starts with a chord, sustained for a minute until it becomes a wash of feedback and reverb. This leads into the tracks “Weakhearted” and “The Tsirku”, which balance ferocity and anguish. Between urgent riffs and exhilarating guitar leads, Moonknight craft these guitar clouds with multiple guitars layered over each other in such a manner that they produce floating beds of sound that are easy to sink into. “Valley of Torment” sends the listener on a slow and steady march through vast open fields of desolation, guided by a distant scream as delicately strummed chords and mournful melodies are looped over again. The album ends with two tracks that simultaneously retain the DSBM ambiance while introducing more sanguine songs, from the light skip and catchy melodies of “Wounded Rider” and the ecstatic violence of “Three Gold Whips”. It’s not often you get this much variety in such a short collection of songs, especially done so well.

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Top 25 of 2016: #18 Amygdala – Population Control

Amygdala – Population Control
(Independent)

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I don’t want anyone else to go through this. It shouldn’t hurt to be a child“. These are the first words you will hear on Population Control, the debut album by San Antonio punkerxs Amgydala, before a hail of furious guitar, blasting drums and fervent screaming strikes. It is immediately clear that this album is going to be a deep dive into very intense and personal topics. Amygdala craft incredibly passionate and powerful hardcore/screamo with hints of metal thrown in. Shorter tracks like “Apathetic Psychoanalyst” and “These Men Aren’t Sorry” show the chops the musicians have, crafting songs that go from aggressive punk riffs and guitar sweeps to atmospheric passages that simmer in hate before a brooding end.

The vocal performance and lyrics are really what take the limelight on this record though. On top of being an incredibly emotional album with lyrics about childhood sexual abuse, this album is also incredibly political. Topics include racism, inner misogyny, privileged punks, and abandoning all patriarchy. The vocalist’s performance is one filled with a pure, passionate hate that always makes the little hairs on my arms and on the back of my neck stand up. In a world full of meaningless hardcore that puffs its chest but doesn’t stand up for any of the injustices that plague this earth, it’s invigorating to hear hardcore that takes a stand for so many marginalized peoples and has a purpose. In light of the times that face us, it’s important for punk to be this bold. Puro Pinche Amygdala!

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Top 25 of 2016: #19 Ellorsith – Jérôme

Elloristh – Jérôme
(Dark Descent Records)

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         Okay so this is actually a split Ellorsith did with Mannveira, but to be honest I spent most of my time only listening to the Ellorsith side. Ellorsith take their name from the Old English word “ellorsíþ”, which is a journey into the unknown, often alluding to death. This is very fitting for the concepts Ellorsith incorporate into their compelling blackened death metal compositions. While their debut demo was based on the infamous Dyatlov Pass Incident, and occasion in which a group’s disappearance is enshrouded in mystery, Jérôme is about the mystery of somebody’s appearance. Jérôme was the name given to a man who washed up on a beach in Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. In the nearly 50 years he lived in Nova Scotia, nobody was ever able to get him to talk, so his history is still a completely unknown. From here, Ellorsith take inspiration for two tracks of unrelenting and unsettling blackened death metal.

         While Ellorsith are no strangers to violent blasts of black/death fury; angular, syncopated mid-tempo riffs are what form the frame of their compositions. An unsettling riff is introduced at the beginning of each song, and as the song goes on, the riff goes through many forms and mutations, each more disjunct and disorienting than the last. It creates the atmosphere of being lost at sea in a storm; no way to decipher which way you’re going and being bombarded by waves. Even moments of blasting black metal fury have plenty of variation. In addition to the crawling guitar riffs, the rhythm section puts on an outstanding performance. The drummer keeps things consistent with rolling double bass and aggressive blast beats, but also keeps the listener engaged with cool fills and cymbal accents all over the place. The bass player knows how to play interesting bass lines that are always melodically relevant but never stray too far from what the guitarist is doing. Overall, these are two awesome tracks that shouldn’t be ignored. I can’t wait to hear what Ellorsith have in store for a full length.

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