Best of 2015: 15-11

Jess cover15. JESS & THE ANCIENT ONES, “Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes” (Svart): Finnish band Jess and the Ancient Ones went from being an occult-based, metal-leaning group to one that has a head full of psychedelic ambitions that rock out a little more. Whatever it is they’ve stumbled upon on their second full-length “Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes” really, really works, and the nine tracks here are infectious, fun, and absolutely addiction worthy. Your head will swim in the clouds with these tracks, and you might find your mind has been altered by these hippie cult jams. On top of that, awesome vocalist Jess is at the top of her game as an alluring, storytelling force, and she deserves more mention when it comes to discussing the best singers in rock and metal.

Of course, witchery is afoot, a fact that becomes bloody obvious on rousing opener “Samhain,” a track that warns the wary of the trappings of the witches sabbath, and from there, the tracks bustle, the choruses drive your heart, and the sticky glory of “The Flying Man,” “The Equinox Death Trip,” and the Manson-inspired “Wolves Inside My Head” set up to do a number on you. But it’s the 22-minute “Goodbye to Virgin Grounds Forever” that adds the dramatic exclamation point at the end of the album. It starts off as a piano ballad, but as it builds, layers of drama and bombast arrive, bringing this thing to raging life and a triumph over death, especially with the band all joining in the refrain that brings the record to its huge end. Great band that’s just getting greater before our ears and eyes. (Dec. 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/jessandtheancientones

To buy the album, go here: http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/

For more on the label, go here: http://svartrecords.com/

Bell Witch cover14. BELL WITCH, “Four Phantoms” (Profound Lore): Wallowing in depression and death is just something Bell Witch happen to do very well. They carved a niche out for themselves in the funeral doom category over two full-length efforts now, and “Four Phantoms” is the dreariest, darkest work of their career. The record centers its loose concept on souls that are trapped in the four elements of wind, water, air, and fire (you can see this depicted on the album cover) and their torment that results from this encapsulation.

Like all Bell Witch work, the songs are gargantuan, deadly, and demand a commitment from the listener. You are entering into chasms of suffering here, long journeys in which the pain and wailing of the subject matter is made soberingly clear. The band crushes and wails in the mud, dragging you through at a slithering pace for the most part, but also sprinkling in serenity and beauty when the scene calls for it. The album opens with a 22:39-long epic “Suffocation, A Burial: I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)” that is impossibly grim but later allows gothic blackness to stream in and cause great flooding. “Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance of Forever)” is a few ticks longer and has elements of deathrock and folk infused into the cascading doom, and a guest spot by Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin) adds spacious, clean singing to the ugliness. It’s one hell of an emotional, gut-wrenching record, and once it’s done, you can’t help but feel you’ve suffered along with those lost, damned souls. (April 28)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/BellWitchDoom

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Cruciamentum cover13. CRUCIAMENTUM, “Charnel Passages” (Profound Lore): If you just want a platter of pure death metal without the unnecessary polish and bells and whistles, UK crushers Cruciamentum had your ass covered with their destructive debut full-length “Charnel Passages.” Actually, that might be the most fitting album title of the entire year, as it describes perfectly what the record sounds like. This band also had the potential albatross of a lot of hype surrounding the arrival of this record, but they smashed every expectation set in front of them.

This seven-track, 45-minute album smothers you from front to back, as these guys clearly are drinking from the same bloody streams as bands such as Incantation, and the flesh scorching you take from this band is hellacious and permanently damaging. From the riff-splattered, at times really catchy opener “The Conquered Sun (The Dying Light Beyond Morpheus Realms),” you head off into a frosty, brutal world that I sometimes forget can exist in modern death metal. “Tongues of Nightside” brings screeching guitar work and vicious thrashing; “Piety Carved From Flesh” tears opens wounds and keeps pounding on them like Abdullah the Butcher carving an already bleeding laceration with an old fork; and closer “Collapse” pushes your face into the pavement, makes you swallow cinders, and keeps up the intensity until final punishment has been dealt. Cruciamentum is a nasty shot in the arm the death metal world badly needed. (Sept. 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cruciamentum/285239791946

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Night Demon cover12. NIGHT DEMON, “Curse of the Damned” (Century Media): A lot of writers, myself included, take a lot of time to dissect music, figure out the messages included, and explain why an album should be seen as important. What we sometimes forget about is that heavy metal as an artform also can be really fun. It’s an escape, a trip into somewhere else where danger is afoot, the devil is laughing comically, and you leave with your heart pounding with excitement. That’s what I’ve gotten with every trip I’ve made to Night Demon’s debut long player “Curse of the Damned,” and it has remained with me faithfully the entire calendar year.

Inspired by the comic book “Blood Sacrifice,” the band tears into tried-and-true heavy metal, with hooks going on for days, great guitar work, and lyrics you’ll want to sing back in your stupid bedroom. Many of the songs revel in B-movie horror, which is a huge compliment, and through memorable cuts including “Screams in the Night,” the great title track, “Heavy Metal Heat” (which might as well go back in time and be mid-1980s Headbangers Ball fodder), and killer closer “Save Me Now,” Night Demon establish themselves as true metal heroes, a band that has a strong emotional and mental connection to the roots of the genre. This record is full of life and fills me with joy every time I hear it. That’s something that doesn’t happen to me often enough. (Jan. 14)

For more on the band, go here: http://nightdemon.net/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://centurymedia.com/

Immortal Bird cover11. IMMORTAL BIRD, “Empress/Abscess” (Broken Limbs/Manatee Rampage): It’s been no secret that Chicago’s Immortal Bird are ensconced in a soft place in our idiots hearts, but that’s for good reason. Ever since their stunning debut EP “Akrasia” and through their live shows, they’ve proved to be an interesting, fresh band that isn’t settling with blending in with the pack. Through their strong, creative playing, monstrous vocals from Rae Amitay, and giant leaps and bounds of progression, “Empress/Abscess” is one of this year’s most satisfying moments. This first full-length proved the band has the chops, intelligence, and tenacity to make something truly memorable, and the work they do on this record makes them even harder to classify than before.

Over five tracks and 30 minutes, Immortal Bird serve up their weird black metal, grind, doom, death amalgamation just right, giving you a hefty serving of what they do best, yet still leaving you wanting more. Crushers “Neoplastic” and “The Sycophant” leave welts and bruises all over your body, twisting and turning your mind into weird pretzel shapes. Yet cuts such as “To a Watery Grave” and apocalyptic, 10-minute closer “And Send Fire” show different shades of the band, reveal their vulnerability, but also cement their ferocity. This is a damn fine record from a band that’s still in its formulative stages, which is a pretty scary thought. I have no idea where they go next, but I’m awfully happy “Empress/Abscess” was one of their stopping points.  (July 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/immortalbirdband

To buy the album, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.com/shop/

Or here: http://immortalbird.bandcamp.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.com/

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