Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Amplifier Altar's Top 10 Abums of 2016

Okay, I half-assed it this year. Unlike in years past, I didn't come up with a list of 50 albums I loved, and a long-ass write-up/review on each one. The truth is, I probably didn't even listen to 50 new albums this year. Usually, the number of records I hear would be in the hundreds, about one every day or two, and sometimes a whole bunch all at once. And the ones I really liked I'd try to listen to a few times each. I'm pretty systematic about it. This year, I dunno... life got in the way I guess. Even some of the albums I really liked I only listened to once or twice.

Anyways, without futher ado, here's the records that did keep me coming back time and time again this year.

1. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
2. Eternal Champion - The Armor Of Ire
3. Darkthrone - Arctic Thunder
4. Heron Oblivion - Heron Oblivion
5. Sumerlands - Sumerlands
6. Vektor - Terminal Redux
7. Horse Lords - Interventions
8. Black Mountain - IV
9. Nap - Villa
10. Neurosis - Fires Within Fires

Honourable Mentions
40 Watt Sun - Wider Than The Sky, A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service, Abbath - Abbath, Anthrax - For All Kings, Black Tusk - Pillars Of Ash, Black Wizard - New Waste, Blood Ceremony - Lords Of Misrule, Blood Incantation - Starspawn, The Body - No One Deserves Happiness, Causa Sui - Return To Sky, Cobalt - Slow Forever, Crowbar - The Serpent Only Lies, David Bowie - Blackstar, Dinosaur Jr. - Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, Elephant Tree - Elephant Tree, Gatecreeper - Sonoran Deprevation, Geezer - Geezer, Goat - Requiem, Gojira - Magma, Gorguts - Pleiades' Dust, Graves At Sea - The Curse That Is, Harrow - Fallow Fields, High Spirits - Motivator, Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Nonagon Infinity, Krallice - Hyperion, Kvelertak - Nattesferd, Megadeth - Dystopia, Oozing Wound - Whatever Forever, Opeth - Sorceress, Oranssi Pazuzu - Varahtelija, Pallbearer - Fear & Fury, Purling Hiss - High Bias, Russian Circles - Guidance, Sheer Mag - III, Thee Oh Sees - A Weird Exits, Thee Oh Sees - An Odd Entrances, Sumac - What One Becomes, Tim Hecker - Love Streams, Tombs - All Empires Fall, Tyvek - Origin Of What, Void Omnium - Dying Light, Witchcoven - Witchcoven, Wo Fat - Midnight Cometh, Wode - Wode, Wreck & Reference - Indifferent Rivers Romance End, Wretch - Wretch, The Zolas - Swooner

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Amplifier Altar's Top 50 Albums of 2015

Lemmy died on December 28th, 2015. That means 2015 was a shitty year for music, and in fact every year from now on will be worse than any of the years in which he was still on this Earth and playing music. That's just a fact that we are all going to have to accept.

Despite that really shitty ending to the year though, I actually did hear some stuff I really enjoyed in 2015.

First, the Honourable Mentions, AKA records I liked that I didn't feel like writing about.

Amorphis - Under The Red Cloud
Black Fast - Terms Of Surrender
Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth - Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth
Built To Spill - Untethered Moon
California X - Nights In The Dark
Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss
Clutch - Psychic Warfare
Crypt Sermon - Out Of The Garden
Dead Ghosts - Love And Death And All The Rest
Dead To A Dying World - Litany
Dragged Into Sunlight & Gnaw The Tongues - NV
Enforcer - From Beyond
Fuck the Facts - Desire Will Rot
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
Harrow - Fallow Fields
Horrendous - Anareta
HSY - Bask
Kadavar - Berlin
KEN Mode - Success
Khemmis - Absolution
Killing Joke - Pylon
Kult Of The Wizard - The White Wizard
Lamb Of God - Strum Und Drang
Liturgy - The Ark Work
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard - Noeth Ac Anoeth
Mastery - Valis
Melechesh - Enki
Mondo Drag - Mondo Drag
MisþyrmingSöngvar Elds Og Oreiou
Nap Eyes - Whine Of The Mystic
Napalm Death - Apex Predator
Paradise Lost - The Plague Within
Parquet Courts - Monsastic Living
Pinkish Black - Bottom Of The Morning
Ranger - Where Evil Dwells
Revenge - Triumph Genocide Antichrist
Sannhet - Revisionist 
Six Organs Of Admittance - Hexadic (Part 2)
Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love
Space Bong - Deadwood To Worms
Sumac - The Deal
Torche - Restarter
Thee Oh Sees - Mutilator Defeated At Last
Ty Segall - Ty Rex
Ufomammut - Ecate
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
Vattnet Viskar - Settler
Vile Creature - A Steady Descent Into The Soil
With The Dead - With The Dead

And now, the list.

50. A Place To Bury Stangers - Transfixiation
These guys fill a very specific niche for me. Every album of dour, nihilistic, high-decible noise rock comes alongside a stoned-to-the-bone side helping of indifferent Jesus & Mary Chain vocals. The piercing feedback, pulsing bass, tinnitus-inducing drums and cloud of distortion static this band steadfastly refuses to alter always sound great at shatteringly loud volumes. I can almost see how cool and indifferent they look on stage when I hear this stuff. I liked this one just as much as every other album they've put out. And I still think it's cool that they make their own effects pedals.

49. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Paper Mache Dream Balloon
This Aussie psychedelic garage rock 7-piece is very much in the mold of uber-prolific units like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, only if those bands got off on more Donovan and Jethro Tull. I first became a fan of them after hearing their raucous 12-Bar Bruise album. This time out they take a weirder, more psychedelic approach than some of their more fiery, full-throttle material. Flutes and saxophones, trippy harmonies and acoustic guitars playfully blend together as the band explores an altogether softer sound. I can't say it's my favourite from them, but this sunny and whimsical pop-prog approach appeals to me when I'm in the right mood. I think they're an excellent band, and they probably have three more completely different albums on the go at this point.

48. Sulfur Aeon - Gateway To The Anti-Sphere
The problem I have with brutal death metal is that because of its reliance on extremity, it can easily become tiresome. The best bands in the style can whip up a horrendous onslaught while adding some interesting flourishes to make the brutality more powerful and effective. Sulfur Aeon have surpassed themselves on their newest, adding enough textural variation and dynamic shifts in mood to break up the record, not to mention a cool spacey semi-concept that takes the band well outside standard extreme metal songwriting material. The band's whole sound benefits from such adventurousness... the riffs are that much more vicious, the the drumming more flattening, and the solos even more barbaric. The closest comparison I could make would be Nile or perhaps Morbid Angel, other bands that weren't afraid to subtly blend brutality with other influences.

47. Primitive Man - Home Is Where The Hatred Is
I was a huge fan of this sludge-grind outfit's previous record, Scorn. So I was very pleased to hear on their new record that they've become even more doomy and lead-footed this time around. With Indian no longer a working band, Primitive Man sound like they're vying for the crown of heaviest band on the planet. Home Is Where The Hatred Is brings a metric ton of crawlingly slow, filthy, blasted-out death dirges, and generally lowering the band's quotient of hardcore-inspired sprints. It's a transition that works for them, especially when combined with their deep, distorted and hideous vocals.

46. Tame Impala - Currents
Currents sees Tame Impala incorporating more electronic currents into their omniverous neo-psych than ever before. Gone is the Dungen fixation that so strongly informed their earlier work, as their music becomes less guitar-focused. To be honest, I prefer that earlier stuff, but I can't fault the band for charting a new course that's entirely their own. And as long as bands get this much attention for making psychedelic music, I suppose I just have to cheer them on.

45. Panopticon - Autumn Eternal
These guys first found their way on to my radar with 2012's Kentucky, a jarring but very interesting hybrid of bluegrass, ambient and black metal which was far more interesting when it wasn't trying to pummel anyone. Since then, they've more seamlessly blended some of their influences into a blackened post-metal monolith which has done away with the banjo heard on Kentucky (which I DID enjoy a lot), and simultaneously made the heavy parts more engaging. Panopticon has shown a lot of growth from the gritty rurality of Kentucky to the more nuanced and naturalistic approach on last year's Roads to the North. Autumn Eternal continues this path, and I would argue even improves upon it. This is heavy music, but it has an emotional, solitary quality that's contemplative rather than raging. There are layers of uplifting, and sometimes harmonized guitar laid over top of galloping rhythms, blast beats, spacious synth washes and meticulously constructed post metal epics. It's potentially the band's most interesting and engaging record yet.

44. Black Cilice - Mysteries
Ultra raw and fierce black metal recorded in a wind tunnel. This stuff straddles the border between harsh noise and extremely low-fi basement black metal. Kvlt.

43. Le Berger - Music for Guitar and Patience
A record that delivers exactly what its title promises - Lush beds of delicate finger-picked guitar, filtered through a bunch of echo and loopers to create some endless, totally enveloping drones. Feel your perception of time melt away as you get lost in these relaxing, ambient soundcapes.

42. Black Breath - Slaves Beyond Death
Black Breath's "Sentenced To Life" was one of my favourite albums of 2012. With its meaty Entombed-derived guitar sound, and ferocious thrashy approach, the record came off as something like Hell Awaits-era Slayer with a Swedish death metal fixation. It was a distillation of all their accomplishments up until that point. But because the record was so intensely focused, the band  ran the risk of running themselves down a stylistic cul-de-sac if they were to try replicating it. Luckily they've found a way to enhance their sound without sacrificing any of their bulldozing aggression. Incorporating a strong Testament vibe, Black Breath has added slower, moodier passages to its bag of tricks, making for a more varied and dynamic listen. The result is their most accomplished work yet.

41. Eternal Tapestry - Wild Strawberries
Most of these guys' records are filled with expansive but still well-thought-out and edited psych rock jams. Someone must have spiked their water or something when they got together to record their new double album, because this is the most out-there they have ever sounded. Sprawling guitar workouts dissipate into ambient soundscapes and back, swelling the running time to nearly 90 minutes. They were never a band that seemed particularly hemmed in on any of their previous records, given that collective improvisation is the name of the game with these guys, but this is still unprecedented even for them. Certainly not everything works. There are sections that could be easily have been trimmed. That being said, ambition counts for a lot in my world, and I'm happy to listen to a band this good leave their comfort zone and set the controls for the heart of the sun rather than remain on cruise control all the time.

40. Bosse-de-Nage - All Fours
A was very impressed by their previous album III, and was happy to find that All Fours built on the band's predilections for consuming texturally interesting black metal. Rather than focusing on full-speed blasting, Bosse-de-Nage trade in slashing, roiling riffs and repeatedly building from dense thickets of continuous re-direction into glorious crescendos. Clean guitar tones and wailing vocals that are by turns pained and triumphant are also used throughout to great effect. Exciting, interesting black metal that isn't afraid to take some detours along the way.

39. Vastum - Hole Below
These guys do old school death metal right: dirty, crusty, and raw. Rather than try to out-tech anyone, and without sounding like copyists, Vastum stay true to the Obituary, Suffocation, Autopsy and Asphyx school of death metal, where they write actual riffs and let their songs breathe a bit. That being said, this is probably their speediest, most-well produced album to date, but that shouldn't worry longtime fans. It sticks pretty close to the playbook, even though there are a few arcade, clean guitar interludes a-la Morbid Angel or Nile to make things just a bit more dynamic. Unlike some death metal which sounds like it could be made by a set of machines, Vastum is a living, breathing band, albeit one that's been buried alive and has maggots crawling through their amplifiers.

38. Leviathan - Scar Sighted
In the grand tradition of asshole black metal doofuses everywhere, Jef Whitehead is a shitty person. He was convicted of battery against his ex-girlfriend in 2011 (and was initially charged with something like 33 other criminal offences for the incident, though most of the charges were later dropped) and the interviews I've read don't exactly make me feel any particular sympathy for his side of the story. But that doesn't mean he's not capable of making fantastic records. After he got 2011's unfortunate and ugly (not in like, a good way) temper tantrum True Traitor, True Whore out of his system, he got back down to the business of crafting powerful, psychedelic and vicious black metal, complete with hopeless, wretched vocals and an overwhelming atmosphere of complete ruin. This is probably his best-sounding record to date as well, with ultra-heavy riffing, respectably beefy bass (always lacking in black metal), punishing double-kick drumming, and guitar leads that sound like murder. Like I would with Burzum, I like this music, but I illegally downloaded my copy for free.

37. Skepticism - Ordeal
This Finnish funeral doom institution's first record of new material since 2008 is a live album containing mostly new material. Recorded earlier this year, the material sounds as bleak and hopeless as you would expect it to, but the real draw is the lovely spacious recording which captures these tones beautifully. Shades of Sunn O)))'s Domkirke can be heard throughout.

36. Wand - Golem
Wand sounds like Ty Segal's glammed up cousin, or parhaps what Ziggy Stardust would sound like had Bowie been a garage rocker from San Francisco. It's a slower, more riff-based rather than rave-up approach, and the results make for a catchy and fun record that demands repeat listens.

35. Jenny Hval - Apocalpyse, Girl
Experimental artist Jenny Hval makes utterly bizarre electronic soundscapes topped with spellbinding vocals. I wasn't familiar with her work before hearing this album, and admittedly was puzzled by it at first. But the weirdness of these songs, combined with the compelling electro-acoustic textures eventually won me over. For a rockist like me, It's kind of difficult for me to describe this sort of music, and I don't want to embarrass myself by even attempting to dissect the gender politics that obviously play a prominent role here. I like to think I know an interesting album when I hear it though, and this one warrants repeated listening. Let's move on.

34. Noisem - Blossoming Decay
Hellish thrash that's heavy on the whammy-bar abuse and just enough crustiness to appeal to the punks. It sprinkles a little bit of grindcore's obliterating speed into the chugging thrash breaks, but is also heavy on demented, shredding solos. They've also bulked up a bit, as Blossoming Decay boats a beefier, heavier production than their debut.

33. Baroness - Purple
Baroness’s first record since the devastating tour bus crash in 2012 that threatened to end the career of one of rock’s most promising bands is a raging comeback. With two members ultimately electing to leave the band in the aftermath of the accident, and guitarist/vocalist John Baizley having to undergo a long and painful recovery process to mend his broken leg and shattered arm, Baroness’ return was far from certain.  The time off seems to have energized them. Unlike 2012's sprawling and ambitions Green and Yellow double album, Purple is a lean and aggressive effort more in line with the band’s earlier sludge metal leanings, albeit coloured with the more psychedelic layering of their later work. It combines all their strengths in a compact package along with memorable songwriting, and reaffirms Baroness’ status as one of the world’s premiere rock bands.

32. Moon Duo - Shadow Of The Sun
Moon Duo's formula is pretty set in stone at this point. The band seems like they could recombine their fuzzy, textural guitars, droning organ lines, pulsing bass and motorik drumming in endless permutations and still come out sounding like Moon Duo. I'm fine with that though. This is patient but propulsive music, perfect for watching horizons, as skies and landscapes melt into rearview mirrors and memories.

31. Destruction Unit - Negative Feedback Resistor
This very loud garage psych unit often reminds me of Comets on Fire, creating chaotic, noisy rock and roll spiked with feedback and aggressive use of echoplex. I really enjoyed their last record Deep Trips a lot and also saw them live in between the release of that record and this one. They definitely rule on stage, but their recorded output is equally muscular and impressive. The recording on this album is meatier than it's been in the past, making the album a heavier and more dynamic affair than others in their catalog.

30. Deafheaven - New Bermuda
I've gotten really tired of the shoegazey post-black metal that is Deafheaven's stock in trade over the past few years. It's not that I don't enjoy the advanced sense of dynamics or My Bloody Valentine-influenced atmospherics that Deafheaven bring to the table, it's just that a million USBM bands have been doing it for a long time. So it's a credit to this most polarizing of bands that they are able to so handily outdo the competition at that style once again on New Bermuda. I didn't expect to like this record as much as I did, but I was impressed with how the heavy parts seemed to be heavier than ever before. There are some legitimately impressive black metal sprints here. There are other avenues being explored here as well. Much like Sunbather, New Bermuda is an expansive, immersive record that is easy to get lost in, and has impressive emotional depth. There's even a few kick ass guitar solos! I had to laugh at my first listen, some parts sound like they could have been lifted from a Smashing Pumpkins album, and I don't mind that at all.

29. Sunn O))) - Kannon
The long-awaited followup to 2009's mighty Monoliths & Dimensions initially seemed a little light in comparison, but after so long a wait there is no way the burden of expectation wasn't going to outweigh the merits of the new record when it finally arrived. Taken on it's own terms, Kannon is a fine encapsulation of Sunn O)))'s seismic power, a back-to-basics project which reaffirms their core metaphor after a number of years spent collaborating with other artists. By their standards, it's far from adventurous, but there is a certain comfort in hearing the drone metal masters laying down some devastating no-motion riffs guaranteed to weaken the foundations of nearby buildings. There are also a few towering, feedback-spiked leads which serve as thrilling counterpoints to Kannon's endless bass frequencies. Longtime collaborator Attilla is also back to perform on this record, and his vocal styles come off strong here, thanks to some new and interesting chanting approaches being tried alongside his tried and true black metal croak. The sound of this record is overwhelmingly heavy and loud, as one would expect. It may be their best-sounding record to date. So although it isn't a dramatic step forward for a band which has traditionally been on the cutting edge of art and metal, it is powerful and highly enjoyable album from a band which perhaps needed to reassert its identity.

28.  Deerhunter - Fading Frontier
Every album Deerhunter puts out always has one song on it that I absolutely love... until the last one. The stripped down, greaser garage feel of Monomania didn't set my world on fire, and nothing grabbed me the way previous standout tracks like "Heatherwood" or "Nothing Ever Happened" or "Desire Lines" had. I'm happy to say that Deerhunter's new single "Snakeskin" is an addictively catchy, uptempo dance funk wonder that is every bit as replayable as those old favourites, and also displays a completely new side of the band. The rest of the album doesn't rise to that level, instead slinking back into the oblique, autumnal and highly-layered experimental neo-psych the band forged on records like Microcastle. In other words, it's a solid Deerhunter record, and they do throw enough curveballs to keep things interesting.

27. Ian William Craig - Cradle for the Wanting
I've been a fan of Ian William Craig's work since friends introduced me to a couple of his tapes a few years back. He has a talent for creating meditative, ambient sound loops that are still engaging. The best drone music can be used as both an immersive, active-listening experience and as background noise. Craig's newest is a collection of expansive, decaying tones stretching into infinity. It's tremendously beautiful at times but also has moments of spellbinding darkness as well.

26. Ecstatic Vision - Sonic Praise
These guys have a real talent for compressing their space rock jams into (relatively) compact spaces. This makes for the rare space rock album in which the jams are concise but still mind-expanding. The combination makes this a memorable and just straight-up fun album. File under Hawkwind acolytes like White Hills, Litmus and Eternal Tapestry, these guys are one of the best space rock bands in the world right now.

25. The BodyThou - You Who I Have Always Hated
I was very excited early in the year when I heard sludgecore veterans Thou and avant-doom masters, the Body. both of whom were responsible for records that made my top 5 list last year, were going to be releasing a collaboration (Although they had already recorded a joint EP together in 2013). And as much as I enjoyed this when it came out, somehow I forgot about it, and it wasn't until preparing this list that I re-visited it. It's a fantastic doom metal album, no doubt, with both of these. heavyweights bringing a serious amount of clout to the proceedings, and a good deal of noise to bookend the mammoth riffs. It's one of the most crushingly heavy albums I heard all year, and as an actual album, it hangs together really well. It could easily be the work of one band. But I couldn't help but think that maybe the Body's involvement especially might lead to something a little bit weirder... for both these bands, impossibly heavy, feedback-saturated doom metal is only part of the story, and I wouldn't have minded them bringing a little more of their twinned creative energies to bear on this, and take a few more risks.

24. Kylesa - Exhausting Fire
Kylesa’s 2010 Spiral Shadow album was my favourite album of that year, a kaleidoscopic masterpiece that blended their sludgy, hi-fi hardcore intensity with their increasingly ambitious use of studio effects and layering to create a widescreen neo-psychedelic heavy rock album of the first order. Perhaps it was due to over-familiarity, but by the time Ultraviolet came out in 2013 and tried to use a lot of the same tricks, I felt like down by it. It was still a good record, but
somehow the intensity seemed to have dissipated, and overall it wasn’t as explosive as their earlier records. I think they’ve bettered themselves significantly on Exhausting Fire, another punishing collection of songs that feature some creative guitar playing from Laura Pleasents and Phillip Cope and a powerful, ultra-modern production job. Their recent work features a brickwalled sheen similar to that of Toronto’s Fucked Up, which may displease some longtime fans calling for a return to
the raw sludge of To Walk A Middle Course. There’s also a higher concentration of vocals from Pleasents than ever before on a Kylesa album, a development that I’d say is most welcome.

23. Obsequiae - Aria Of Vernal Tombs
The number one Dungeons and Dragons album of the year. Black metal combined with medieval interludes to create a record that's mysterious, ceremonial, and timeless. Like a King Diamond-less, post-black metal Mercyful Fate obsessed with found sound and acoustic guitar, or perhaps a blackened Nile that was more interested in the the supernatural beliefs of Gothic Germany than ancient Egypt, these hymns sound like they could have been soundtracking a black mass, or else merely the day to day struggles of a pagan village a thousand years ago.

22. Acid King - Middle Of Nowhere, Centre Of Everywhere
Acid King's last album, III came out in 2005, but you wouldn't know it listening to this. Their spaced-out biker rock is still just as crushing as I remember, but I always forget how slow these guys play. It's like watching an avalanche in slow motion. Lori's lumbering, molasses-thick leads and instantly recognizable vocals are just as appealing as ever.

21. Krallice - Ygg Huur
I absolute love every second of music this band has ever released. Ygg Hurr is their 5th full length album, and if it's possible, it's their most dense and decimating work to date. A so-called "calculator metal" supergroup, the band members' resumes speak for themselves, with the 4 players having put in time in noted tech/math/noise/avant-garde projects Orthrelm, Dysrhymthmia, and Behold... The Arctopus. Although their music has always been rooted in black metal, Krallice's precision and abstract nature set them apart... truly there is no other band in the world making music like this. The skill and single-minded drive of each member to submit to the unique band voice is unmatched. Listen to how burly and yet how nimble that rhythm section is while the two guitarists are simply astonishing. The interplay between the 4 is simply incredible. This is their shortest album to date by some distance, but that doesn't mean they've softened their approach at all. Their astonishing technicality and unstoppable brutality are still intact, and as overwhelming as ever. It doesn't quite top their best album, 2012's Years Past Matter, but it's certainly a worthy addition to the catalog of one of the most gifted and bewildering bands making music today.

20. False - Untitled
This is black metal that's high on hellish intensity and frigid atmosphere. This Minneapolis band makes a racket that features grim, raspy vocals, relentless blast beats and chaotic twin tremolo guitar figures all rushing hedlong into oblivion. The occasional synth bed adds texture and depth, giving the proceedings the feeling of something triumphant, like storm, inexorably decimating anything in its path.

19. Motörhead - Bad Magic
Lemmy died 4 days ago. I'm still at a loss for words, but I want to note that the sad news didn't change my ranking of this album. It was a strong Motörhead album in a very long string of strong Motörhead albums. From the raging opener "Victory or Die" (surely one of the best songs the band recorded in the past 25 years) to the faithful Rolling Stones cover that closes it, Bad Magic does what every record before it did... rock and roll, and take no prisoners. "Till The End" is one of the best slow songs they've ever done, too, a defiant last stand that makes for a fitting epitaph.

18. Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy
I didn't love Titus Andronicus' last album. It felt a bit too restrained after their triumphant sophomore album The Monitor. Sweaty, booze-soaked, and wildly ambitious in scope, The Most Lamentable Tragedy is everything that it's disappointing predecessor was not. The band here rocks as hard as they ever have, equal parts working-class bar rock and bile-spewing punk. You'll hear nods to the ghosts of Springsteen, Thin Lizzy, Husker Du, and the Sex Pistols, but it all fits into the band's unique vision. Anthemic singalongs abound and the odd string section or incandescent guitar solo add variety and colour. Deserperation pours off of these songs, and at over 90 minutes in length, the record never overstays its welcome. A tremendous record from one of the best rock bands in the world today.

17. Goatsnake - Black Age Blues
Greg Anderson's Southern-fried boogie-doom powerhouse returns after a very long lay-off. From the fade-in of the first track, which echoes the end of their last album, 2001's magnificent Flower Of Disease, it's apparent that Goatsnake is back to do what they always did. And truly it feels like they never left, with the band dropping ultra-heavy, swaggering, slow-burn riffin' stoner rock like they never left. If you EVER hear someone say modern bands "just don't RAWK anymore..." You're welcome to let them know about these guys. It's been a year of comebacks for Greg, who has spent most of hist time the last half-decade running the incomparable Southern Lord record label and collaborating with other artists. 2015 saw him first re-form Goatsnake for this beauty of an album, and also team with long-time partner in crime Steve O'Malley to release the first full length, non-collaborative Sunn O))) record in 6 years.

16. Leila Abdul-Rauf - Insomnia
Drone artist Leila Abdul-Rauf makes bleak, haunting soundscapes that feature layered guitar, synth, wordless vocalizations, horns, keys and a whole lot of echo. Dark, rich, and strikingly beautiful, it's some of the loneliest music you'll ever hear, and despite going by the name of Insomnia, the album works best when played in the dark.

15. Windhand - Grief's Eternal Flower
2013's Soma was one of the best doom albums of that year, a sprawling, massive ode to the lumbering topor of Electric Wizard and Warning, but one in which the vocals of Dorthia Cottrell were sometimes buried in the murk. This time out, the sonic balance has been inverted, with the vocals way out in front alongside some beautifully assured guitar leads. It's certainly more accessible, and frankly it's up to you which one you think is superior (and their debut aint too shabby either), but it's clear that Windhand have cemented themselves as one of the biggest names in doom.

14. Elder - Lore
Once a gang of Sleep-worshiping resin-scrapers, Elder seems to have ingested quite a bit of Mastodon since we heard from them last, not to mention a bevy of '70s space and prog influences. Not that they've retired their copies of Master Of Reality or Sleep's Holy Mountain, just that this Boston crew has shown (GASP!) real artistic growth! They've obviously sharpened as players in the last few years, and also expanded their ambitions as well. I'll always love the simple charm of their early material, but I think I have to acknowledge that this is their best album yet.

13. Iron Maiden - Book Of Souls
Up the Irons! It wouldn't be fair to compare this record to Number Of The Beast or Killers. Of course it isn't going to be that good. But as Maiden have gracefully grown older and adopted a less vital but more studied approach, they've never failed to keep me entertained (I like to pretend the Blaze years never happened). So a triple vinyl record might seem  overly ambitious... how could a band celebrating its 40th year as a working unit release that much music without having at least some filler on it? Well, Book Of Souls is not a flawless album. But I could really give a crap. I love this band, no one does what they do as well as they do, and the high points more than make up for it. This one has as many sections that get me fired up as any of their other recent albums, all of which I adore. It's simply more of what I love from these guys. Every listen reveals new discoveries. And I am sure to keep on coming back to it for years to come.

12. Monolord - Vænir
These Swedish cosmic doom purveyors have one-upped their impressive debut with this gloriously spacey and galaxy-flattening platter. Nothing here is as immediate as "Empress Rising," but that doesn't trouble me one bit. The songs are more distinct this time out, and their grasp of dynamics is sharper. Everything sounds bigger and brawnier. This is what I imagine gravity death in a black hole sounds like.

11. Vhöl - Deeper Than Sky
One of the most interesting metal bands going, and wholly unclassifiable. Vhöl is a supergroup composed of members of YOB, Ludicra and Hammers Of Misfortune. Deeper Than Sky is their second record, and it might even eclipse their exceptional 2013 debut. This unit is one of the only groups in metal that can approach Krallice in terms of laser-precise musical ability, but they make use of a wider pallet that incorporates prog rock complexity, punk rock rants, psychedelic production touches, piano interludes, thrashy sprints, doomy sludge riffs, spacey ambiance, glorious classic heavy metal twin guitarmonies, and blackened misanthropy. Similar in restless spirit to prime Voivod, Vhöl like to get as out there as they possibly can while jackhammering quadratic equations on your forehead.

10. Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
A friend of mine tried to turn me on to Father John a few years back and it didn't make much of an impression. But I gave this a listen because I know a lot of people really like it. And I'm glad I did. I'm not a lyrics guy by any means, but these songs are funny, clever, thoughtful and touching. They tugged at my heartstrings in a way that I'm embarrassed to admit. Aw, fuck it, it's a soft-psych singer-songwriteer record with interesting arrangements and great lyrics that made me feel feelings about stuff. I really liked it. Can I write about something with screams in it now please?

9. Locrian - Infinite Dissolution
The most interesting currents in extreme music right now are seeing metal merge with noise music. Locrian has spent their career churning out a raft of impressive mutations on the form of black metal, incorporating dissonant electronics and white noise into their fearsome din. Infinite Dissolution may be their most accomplished hybrid yet, incorporating ambient soundscapes and harsh, distorted tones that dissect the black metal playbook and reassemble the components in new and creative ways. Much like doom metal deconstructionists The Body, Locrian is building on the work of their influences, and pointing the way toward the future.

8. Prurient - Frozen Niagara Falls
Absolutely decimating harsh noise walls that somehow also manage to be highly listenable. Frozen Niagara Falls is a true album, a finely crafted listening experience that blends ferocity, fearless experimentation, haywire electronics, textural meditations and a strong sense of musicality. Gorgeous piano and analog synth interludes do battle with shattered, inhuman vocals, punishing industrial-strength drum machines, piercing feedback towers, and blown-out sheets of static and distortion to construct a unique and strangely inviting musical world. The title is an appropriate image, as these explorations of pure sound sometimes feel like entering a world where time stops altogether, and otherwise nebulous landscapes and natural phenomena can be observed and experienced in stasis. It's a glorious crowning achievement for Prurient aka Dominick Fenrow, who has spent the better part of 20 years unleashing a torrent of harsh noise releases. It's also widened his profile and that of noise music in general in 2015 to a degree very few of his ilk will ever reach, given the difficult nature of this kind of music. But it's a masterpiece, and one that isn't difficult to appreciate even if you're not really into Merzbow. Let's put it this way... if you only listened to one noise musician in 2015, it was probably Prurient, and with good reason.

7. Bell Witch - Four Phantoms
Seattle funeral doom duo that includes the bass player from Samothrace, another band that's no stranger to my year-end lists. A brighter, more accomplished refinement of their relentlessly gloomy debut, this record adds a few shades of colour to their mournful hymns to hopelessness. Don't get me wrong, it's still plenty of endless marching towards the horizon, head bowed in acknowledgement of the futility of the act. This time out though, there are a few more sonic details which make for a more engaging listen. All in all, it's a step forward for a band that knows exactly what they want to do, and has proven already that they know how to do it.

6. Kamasi Washington - The Epic
I'm reluctant to declare this the masterpiece that many people have, simply because I am no jazz expert, and what I do listen to was all generally recorded before 1980. But The Epic is a very impressive overview of the history of jazz, as performed by a master student of the form. Here, big band and swing, cool and bop, free jazz and fusion all intermingle, weaving together the decades into a sprawling tapestry. At 3 hours, it's a daunting listen for the uninitiated, but it's really not at all difficult to enjoy. It's safe to say that if you're not a fan of jazz, then this probably won't appeal to you. But it's not a bad place to start if you're interested in a survey course. 

5. High On Fire - Luminiferous
Yeah, yeah, Matt Pike is a nutcase. Who the hell cares? This record, like every single HOF LP before it, is a rampaging beast. With Motörhead sadly no longer able to continue as an active musical entity, let Matt Pike's coronation as rock n' roll's greatest standard-bearer begin. High On Fire is now officially the world's most consistent heavy metal band. Pike's arching riffage and Des's punishing assault and battery approach to the drums combine to form towering cathedrals of sound. I'm 
always impressed with how they seem to be able to grow and top themselves with every release, without changing their game plan too much at all. The answer lies simply in the skill of the musicians, and their ability to gel as a unit and play with aggression, passion and vitality. I love the early records, but ever since 2007's Death Is This Communion, it's become clear that Jeff Matz is the man born to thump the bass in this formidable and battle-ready unit. I fully expect them to continue cranking out records of this quality for years to come.

4. Tribulation - The Children Of The Night
These melodic death stalwarts have made a classic heavy metal album with a blackened edge. Screeched, harsh vocals and thrashy sprints are juxtaposed with highly melodic guitar leads that will slash themselves into your brain and stay there for days. There's a real occult rock-inspired '70s feel to these songs, like Pentagram or Hammer horror films. They feel ageless, and lived in, tying together the decades in a way that will appeal to bell-bottomed hard rockers, leather-clad longhairs, Emtombed fans, and and open-minded corpse paint fiends.

3. Mgla - Exercises In Futility
Holy hell, does this record ever kick ass. These Hungarians found their way on to my radar a few months ago when they spewed out one of the most vicious black metal albums of the year. I'm ready to hear more. Even with most of the tracks running into the 7 or 8 minute range, there isn't an ounce of flab on this record, with the band drawing on seemingly bottomless wells of fury and headlong intensity throughout. And as misanthropic as the subject matter initially seems, Mgla whip up such an exhilarating hurricane of furious sound and pure excitement l that it's hard not to get swept along. Hating the world has never been so much fun.

2. Magic Circle - Journey Blind
I've heard these guys called a doom band, but if this batch of punk lifers deserves to be lumped in with any group of bands, it's those Gothic, Sabbath-worshiping old timers, the likes of Witchfinder General, Pagan Altar and Pentagram. These energetic, exciting riffs are worlds away from the sludgy and mournful palls of what I think characterizes doom metal as we use the term today. It's really more of a party record than anything, ratcheting up the speed and making for what is the most flat-out fun metal album of the year. Throw this on in between Maiden's Killers and a Grim Reaper record and you'll be crushing beer cans on your forehead and throwing up the horns in no time.

1. Six Organs Of Admittance - Hexadic
Ben Chasny's deep and rewarding body of work certainly includes slash and burn electric destruction guitar psych-outs (his 6-string work with Santa Cruz planet-scorchers Comets On Fire comes to mind), but I think most people would expect more of his acoustically inclined work when approaching a new Six Organs record. He has generally weaved currents of psych, noise, drone and rock into his trippy acoustic ragas over the years, but the core of Chasny's work his always been his spell-binding technique, most commonly displayed on the acoustic. But his first of two releases in 2015 is downright unsettling. Built from a unique guitar mode of his own devising, Hexadic was Chasny's attempt to approach his playing from a completely different set of musical rules. The result is the darkest, murkiest album of Chasny's career. It's also one of the best; noisy, distended and distorted notes hang in the air and piercing and tearing at the fabric of space. It shatters any formula that you may have identified Six Organs with. Part II, which came out later in the year, is the acoustic yang to Part I's explosive yin, where waterfalls of beautifully plucked notes cascade over one another in offsetting and unexpected ways. Fine stuff, but you don't need to know me very well to guess which one I'd prefer. It captivated me on first listen several months ago, and continues to entrance me still. I'm pleased and also surprised that an artist that I had become so familiar with and enjoyed for so long is still capable of shocking me, and for that reason, I enjoyed listening to this record more than any other that I heard in 2015.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Indian is no more.

This is a big loss for lovers of heavy, abrasive music. For over a decade these sludge fiends refined their singular sound, from the bloody High On Fire, Cavity and Eyehategod worship of their debut album The Unquiet Sky, into the sweeping mass destruction of their 2011 opus Guiltless. More recently, Indian's crusty, blasted-out doom has incorporated elements of noise music, which, combined with their generally horrific vocals, screaming feedback palls, and merciless heaviness was at the absolute forefront of today's extreme music scene.

Although I'm at a loss as to what the reasons for the breakup are, the arc of their career has apparently taken them to a precipice. It would be hard to imagine how anything could possibly be more forceful and terrifying than last year's From All Purity, a record that I wrote about in this here blog when it was released. It's with great disappointment that I learned it was to be their swan song. Where the individual members decide to go from here remains to be seen.

A tip of the cap to a fine band that will be sorely missed. Hail!

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Rob Flynn from Machine Head (and Vio-Lence, for those of you old enough to remember) is an intelligent man with interesting opinions about things. A few days ago he posted a blog article touching on the film Selma, and worked it into a thinkpiece about the state of race in America in 2015, among other things.

Have a read. Don't worry, I'll wait.

This makes me like Flynn that much more. Metal can be a tricky place for politics. A wide swath of it is pure escapism, and there is a real conservative streak running through some aspects of the heavy metal community. Now, I don't wanna get all Carducci on you and make everything you listen to about politics. Sometimes music is just music, and that's a big part of why its able to unite people. I'm a progressive, and if you're not, that's fine. We can argue about issues and still both like Slayer. But this stuff is worth talking about, and kudos to Flynn for sticking his neck out.

For any kind of public figure, having an opinion about something controversial is a no-win situation. You can't keep everyone happy. So it takes integrity to talk about issues like this, and hard work to maintain credibility. Fact is, we have a lot of problems in this world. And metal has always been a voice for the disaffected and the disadvantaged. I'm glad to see some people aren't afraid to use that voice.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Amplifier Altar's Top 50 Albums of 2014

I think putting out your list of the best records before the end of the year is bullshit. You can't possibly have heard everything you need to hear. There's just too much good stuff, whatever you happen to be into. Here are a few honourable mentions:

Agalloch - The Serpent & The Sphere
At The Gates - At War With Reality
Black Lips - Underneath The Rainbow
Bo Ningen - III
Boris - Noise
Caribou - Our Love
Chromeo - White Women
Cloud Nothings - Here And Nowhere Else
Coffinworm - IV.I.VIII
Corrosion Of Conformity - IX
Fucked Up - Glass Boys
Grouper - Ruins
Hookworms - Hum
Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon
Jack White - Lazaretto
Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls
Mark McGuire - Along The Way
Morgan Delt - Morgan Delt
Mutilation Rites - Harbinger
The Mounties - Thrash Rock Legacy
Parquet Courts - Constant Nausea
Protomartyr - Under Color Of Official Right
Sólstafir - Ótta
Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials
Thom Yorke - Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Now, time to lay some descriptives on ya.

50. Ringworm - Hammer Of The Witch

Punishing d-beat hardcore from moshpit beatdown veterans. It's all huge Disfear guitars that absolutely flatten and driven by a superowered drummer. The production was cleaner than I would have liked, but there's no question these guys know how to lay it down, and the vocals are vicious and filled with vitriol. Plus it's got a kickass cover and a shamanic heavy metal cover to die for.

49. Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 2

I don't really keep up with what's going on in hip hop these days, but I know what I like when I hear it. A friend showed me Run the Jewels' first record a little while back and I was all up in it. El-P Killer Mike's second release as Run The Jewels may even be better. With impossibly dextrous flow and uncompromising content, these guys give the form a kick in the ass. The real draw for me though is the beats. Some of the bass tones here are so heavy they'll sand off your dome.

48. Dust Bolt - Awake The Riot

It seems not a year goes by that I don't read about the death of the thrash revival... What the people who say these things don't seem to understand is that thrash is an evergreen musical style. There's always some longhairs or gutter punks in a garage somewhere willing to pay repeated tribute to the masters. That being said, there isn't a ton of truly inspiring stuff out there, even though some of the masters themselves are still going. Greybeards like Exodus and Overkill released decent but overlong and underwhelming records this year, and aside from Tankard's highly enjoyable R.I.B., not much classic, faithful-to-the-80s speed metal was blowing my hair back. And then I find out about a band like Dust Bolt that blows that whole idea to hell. 

Opener "Living Hell" ripped my face off, and from there the band proceeded to kick my ass with hyperspeed E string chugging, intense shredding solos, relentless drumming, 7 killer riffs a song, and a razor-sharp production job that provides serious thump without ever sounding too slick. The vocals alternate between an 80's hardcore bark and soaring metal screams that would do Tom Araya proud. 

Awake the Riot does suffer one major deficiency -- clocking in at 12 tracks that last just under an hour, it does tend to drag after a while. Word to young thrashers -- Metallica managed to make Ride the Lightning less than 48 minutes long, and Slayer's Reign in Blood is like half a freakin' hour. Your shit probably isn't as good as that, so edit judiciously.

47. Trap Them - Blissfucker

This furious d-beat hardcore unit followed up its breakthrough record Darker Handcraft with another punishing platter of misanthropic violence. With a beefier, buzz saw guitar sound that owes a huge debt to the first two Entombed records (what doesn't, these days?) as well as a more spacious approach to songwriting, Blissfucker is a more dynamic and varied listen than its predecessor, while still retaining a hundred percent of the aggression and moshpit beatdownability.

46. Vanhelgd - Relics of Sulphur Salvation

Swedish 4-piece Vanhelgd have returned with a punishing collection of blackened riffs and crusty vocals that sound positively caked in filth. With a relentless drum attack and huge riffs criss-crossing all over one another, Relics of Sulphur Salvation is a winning combination of intricate song construction and chunky, riff-based attack. It's reminiscent of the sound Entombed forged on their first couple records, but with a with a modern production job that boasts a big, meaty guitar sound. Things can get a little heady at times, as most of these songs fall in the 5 to 6 minute range, but very little here is wasted. At 8 tracks and 41 minutes in length, Relics is a lean, focused and powerful statement from one of the best metal bands Europe has to offer.

45. Soen - Tellurian

It's impossible not to talk about prog-rock super group Soen without mentioning the fact that they sound like Tool. I mean, they really, REALLY sound a lot like Tool. Much like that LA institution, Soen favours odd time signatures and complex, groove-oriented song structures, while Vocalist Joel Ekelöfsounds more than a little like Maynard James Keenan, not to mention Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt. 

Former Opeth and Amon Amarth Drummer Martin Lopez is an absolute dynamo on the kit here, pounding out syncopated cross-rhythms and hammering double bass runs with aplomb. It's not an easy sound to ape, and few have even bothered to try. I found their debut, Cognitive, to be an enjoyable, if derivative listen, but something about it seemed a little bloodless. The chops are there, no question, but Soen just couldn't nail the primal intensity that is the Tool trademark. Tellurian is a something of step up in that department... Although they sound much like what this band has done before, they sustain a level of intensity that Cognitive lacked.

Tracks like "Pluton" and "Void" are twisting, multipart suites that mix up relentless pummeling with trippy, atmospheric sessions and a keen melodic sense. So if you like Tool or A Perfect Circle, there's no reason you won't enjoy this. And since it's been almost 9 years since the last Tool album, I think I can deal with a lack of originality.

44. Floor - Oblation

So I guess it's just best to get this out of the way: Floor's first album in a dozen years sounds a lot like a new Torche album. Well, yes, but that's okay. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Brooks formed Torche after Floor went on hiatus in the early aughts, and since then he's done pretty well for himself. He advanced his vision to great heights with Torche's Meanderthal album, and ever since he's always been compared to the Foo Fighters while actually sounding more like the Melvins in their less obnoxious moments. Like Baroness and Kylesa, Floor have figured out a way to meld modern recording techniques and pop-savvy songwriting ability to a comfortably heavy sensibility.

43. Tankard - R.I.B.

Beer-soaked thrash veterans who have never quite been able to earn the profile of their countrymen KreatorSodom and Destruction. Which is a shame, because the sense of humor these guys bring to their lovably retrograde 80s style speed metal makes for some memorable songs and a thoroughly enjoyable listen. It's no different from what they've always done, but the likes of "War Cry," "No One Hit Wonder" and the title track have some great riffs and fantastic shout along vocals. Great to see these guys steadfastly refusing to grow up.

42. Monolord - Empress Rising

Channeling the galaxy-crushing force of Electric Wizard and Ufomammut, Monolord are a Swedish power trio that play heavy cosmic doom. This is their first record. The 12-minute title track with its mantra-like repetition of the two-note bong-blasted hook is the gateway drug here. After that it's more of the same, but I 'aint complaining. Monolord aren't reinventing wheel, but they've got riffs to burn. I'd like to see some growth and a little bit more personality on the number 2, but until then this will do just fine.

41.  Flying Lotus - You're Dead

Like most of the music by Flying Lotus, You're Dead is all over the place. These songs at times feature skronking horn blasts and Thundercat's nimble bass runs matched to schizophrenic beats and heavily manipulated vocal samples. It's difficult to tell where one song begins and another one ends, or to even call them songs at all. The whole things sounds as if it's been tossed in a blender. It's a sound collage, where jazz, hip hop and electronic music collide to form confounding permutations. This adventurous spirit is strongly influenced by the free jazz pioneered by his uncle and spiritual godfather John Coltrane. You're Dead is probably the most aggressive record Flying Lotus has made, and it features a whole whack of guests, from Kendrick Lamar to Snoop Dogg.

40. Serpentine Path - Emanations

This doom supergroup has bettered itself on its second record with the addition of former Winter guitarist Stephen Flam. His layered playing adds a degree of texture and intricacy that their previous record lacked. Former Electric Wizard and Ramsses member Tim Bagshaw still brings the riffs, but this time around the songwriting is sharper and more dynamic, making full use of the talents of its two axemen as they weave together palls of feedback and distortion-swollen leads. And of course, with 3 members of Unearthly Trance holding down the rhythm section and vocals, you know from the outset that this record is going to be a heavy one. Dig the syrupy, slow motion solos on "Systemic Extinction."

39. The Liars - Mess

The Liars' labyrinthine discography just gets weirder and darker with each record they put out. Their most recent album adds the 4-on-the-floor pulse that has been mostly missing since they debuted with They Threw Us All In A Trench And Built A Monument On Top in 2001. Despite that, this is not party music. The Liars' use of layered and ominous vocals and acute sense of space make it sound more like a bloody séance in some demented dance club. With its death-disco strut, stuttering organ stabs and gorgeous synth washes, "Pro Anti Anti" is my favourite track, but there is plenty to like here for Liars fans.

38. Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animals

The line "Turn on the white noise of the AM band, and the last classic rock band's last solid record creeps in, " on "Instant Disassembly" to me sums up this band's entire career. They're a band that's heavily influenced by classic rock but not beholden to it, with lyrics that are clever but have emotional depth. The line might as well refer to the Stones, since it carries with it the weariness of the Stones' best work... it might as well be a lurching barroom ballad off Goats Head Soup. Sunbathing Animal is one of two solid records the band put out in 2014 along with the also very good Constant Nausea, but this is the more substantial of the two. Rock 'n' roll can be better than most of what we get in 2014. Parquet Courts are showing us how.

37. Woods of Desolation - As The Stars

I've found myself growing bored with the avalanche of post/black metal imitators that have inundated the scene over the past decade, but Australian band Woods Of Desolation have proved that there's still plenty of interesting BM bands out there. Opener "Like Falling Leaves" rips into a furious raw, blackened sprint complete with tortured depressive vocals right off the bat, but Woods of Desolation are far more dynamic than that initial feint might have you believe. The band reaches much greater heights on the likes of "And If All The Stars Faded Away" and "Ad Infinitum," which marry triumphant climaxes to gorgeous, psychedelic textures. At times the record invites comparisons to Ukrainian black metal bogeymen Drudkh, which makes sense because former Drudkh drummer Vlad appears to lend a hand or two on the record. And at less than 35 minutes in length, it's far more economical than many of Woods of Desolation's peers could manage. Too often records in this style are burdened with excessive run times, when ultimately, it's those few transcendent moments which define the listening experience.

36. Aphex Twin - Syro

Richard D James is back with his first new album under the Aphex Twin banner in over a decade. If you're at all into weird electronic music, you're probably already familiar with his work, and its enormous influence. Syro's surprise quick-release seemed designed to negate any hype buildup that would cause a backlash, but it hardly seems necessary. He's clearly absorbed all the advances that have been made in bass music since the early '00s, and yet he's still delivered a satisfying record that bears James' distinctive hallmark. It's almost as enjoyable as any of his classic mid-90s releases. Somehow, even after all these years, Aphex Twin still seems ahead of the game.

35. Godflesh - World Lit Only By Fire

As much as I've always been a fan of Justin Broadrick's work with Jesu, I found their last few records to be somewhat bloodless... That's why when Broadrick announced he'd be bringing his long-dormant Godflesh project out of mothballs, I was very excited. Marking their return with a well-received EP earlier this year, Godflesh made a triumphant comeback record with World Lit Only By Fire, a record that brings crushing deliverance for all who crave mechanical heaviosity of the highest order. The album hearkens back to their late '80s, early '90s heyday with their trademark industrial blast furnace stomp pretty much unchanged. Welcome back.

34. Andy Stott - Faith In Strangers

Stott's incredible 2012 record Luxury Problems was an enveloping soup of hazy, narcoleptic textures and darkly threatening beats. His second full length retains some of that darkness, but is overall a more patient, mature record. The track "Violence" is one of the most incredible pieces of music I heard all year, with its foreboding dread and disembodied vocals being broken down and reassembled with masterful precision. Elsewhere, highlights like "No Surrender" and Damage" abound. Stott has established himself as a truly formidable composer and producer in a very short amount of time, and Faith in Strangers is not only testament to his skill and vision, but also a tremendous indication of his potential. Essential dark electronic music.

33. Baptists - Bloodmines

Dave Grohl said Nick from Baptists is the best drummer in the world, so who am I to disagree? The second full length from the best band in Vancouver is just as punishing as the first. These guys do hardcore right... fast, dirty and heavy. At times they even downshift into a sludgy Eyehategod riff that's caked in dirt and spews shards of feedback over a barking madman who sounds like he's being buried alive. And they're even more intense live.

32. Swans - To Be Kind

I'll say this about Michael Gira... the dude never stops working. After Swans' masterful 2012 record The Seer earned critical acclaim from everyone under the sun, he turns around and puts out another cavernous, 2 hour plus opus. These hypnotic grooves with their intricate arrangements and their writhing, swaying menace are worlds away from the primitive noise of early Swans, while still retaining the same malevolent aura. Keep in mind, this is a guy entering his fourth decade as a recording artist. Really at this point there's no one left to impress... it sounds like Swans are just doing whatever they want.

31. Thee Oh Sees - Drop

Another super solid garage rock record from one of the most consistent songwriters in the game, John Dwyer. Consolidating the fuzztone and wah-pedal worshipping rock and roll of last year's awesome Floating Coffin album, Dwyer has once again penned a solid group of catchy, memorable rock songs like "Penetrating Eye" and "Savage Victory" to form another very good Thee Oh Sees record in a long line of 'em. 

30. Conan - Blood Eagle

Conan's second album opens with a lone guitar caked in unabashedly hessian distortion, tolling out a sluggish riff before the inevitable shit-hammer drops. And then that's pretty much all you get for the next 44 minutes. But that tone... Generations of stoners have abused their amps, pulled their hair out over their pedal boards and wrung their guitar necks looking to create a sound like this. Conan are a doom metal band and they like to play slow and heavy. They're not particularly theatrical or hateful or psychedelic and they don't have the chops to play rings around some other bands... It's all pretty simple, but those crumbling walls of craggy guitar are absolutely irresistible. Some moments, like the galloping war-metal opening of "Foehammer" and the dinosaur-trapped-in-a-tar-pit slow down of "Horns for Teeth" are so awesome that they tap into some part of my reptile brain and defy every impulse other than to nod my head in agreement. Yes... YES... YES, THIS ROCKS. No... NO... NO! DON'T STOP ROCKING!!!

29. Satan's Wrath - Eons of Satan's Reign

Let's just get this out of the way. When you name your band Satan's Wrath, and your new record has a title like THAT, people are going to think things about you without hearing a note of your music. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the utter kickassedness of the opening track "Only Satan Is Lord." 

These Greek thrashers play furious ultra-satanic thrash that is just straight up FUN. Alongside fellow blackened thrash revivalists Nekromantheon, these guys are working with a Venom-inspired palette that draws directly from that magical period when early black metal and death metal were just starting to separate from the more progressive, upwardly mobile tendencies of more straight ahead thrash. 

The production is a little muddy, but still powerful and very appropriate for the feel of the album, and the vocals sound like the kind of thing you'd have heard at a Sodom or Kreator show in 1985. Nothing else on the record is as catchy as that first track, but it's an intense, sonic blitzkrieg throughout that old school metal heads will eat up. 

*Note, I'm usually pretty strict about my release dates. If a record didn't come out in 2014, it doesn't make the list for that year. Nonetheless, I later noticed that Eons of Satan's Reign came out on November 12th, 2013. I didn't hear it until this year though, and anyways, I already wrote the entry, so whatever.* 

28. Wo Fat - The Conjuring

Look, I don't know what it is about Wo Fat, but for some reason I love every record these guys put out. On their fifth full-length they change absolutely nothing about their approach, meaning the whole record is nothing but heavy riffin', jammin' Kyuss-inspired super heavy stoner rock. It also happens to be the best record these guys have put out since 2009's genre-defining Psychedelonaut... Next time someone tells you that no one is making any good rock 'n' roll records any more... send them in Wo Fat's direction.

27. The Men - Tomorrow's Hits

New Moon was my favourite album of 2013, so it's perhaps to be expected that their new record would be a step down. This time it's a little slicker, and a little bit tighter than the classic sprawl of that dusty masterpiece, although it's not short on intensity. If their last LP was their "Crazy Horse record," I'd say the new one is more influenced by the economical but ragged power pop of the Replacements. The cover even reminds me of Big Star

They've still got a pile of great songs here, and there is still plenty of room for some great, off-the-rails rocking on tracks like "The Dark Waltz," "Another Night" and "Going Down." At a trim 8 tracks and clocking in at less than 37 minutes in length, there isn't an ounce of fat on this record. Classic rock fans would eat this up if they heard it.

26. Lord Mantis - Death Mask

I told a friend a few months back that 2014 was "The year of hideous sludge." I might have been overestimating the appeal of that kind of thing to your average music listener, but with Thou, Indian and Coffinworm all releasing good stuff, not to mention Eyehategod returning from the dead with a very strong record, it was a good year for slow, hateful music. It's a good bet though that nothing is as misanthropic, disgusting or tortured than this repulsive little piece of filth. 

From the disturbing cover art to song titles like "Negative Birth" and "You Will Gag for the Fix," this is not a pleasant listen. Opening track "Body Choke" is the highlight here, as it rides a bonecrushing groove topped with raspy, tortured vocals and squealing feedback shards for almost 9 minutes before collapsing on itself. And if that sounds like something you might enjoy listening to, Lord Mantis just might be your cup of bile.

25. Machine Head - Bloodstone & Diamonds

Rob Flynn's long running thrash/groove metal project continues to impress. Although their mid-period releases were (somewhat unfairly) maligned by fans, the band righted the ship with a tremendous return to form on Through The Ashes of Empires in 2004. Since then they have never faltered -- Bloodstone & Diamonds is the band's fourth excellent album in a row since that rebirth. 

Although not as immediate as their last record, 2011's Unto The Locust, it's a more ambitious and musically complex affair. You could fairly describe Bloodstones & Diamonds as Machine Head's prog album. Throughout they make use of violins, choirs, and vocal samples to spice up their still ferocious metallic attack. it's also quite long, which can make it a bit difficult to digest in a single sitting. Still, tracks like "Now We Die," "Beneath the Silt" and the utterly crushing "Sail Into The Black" are as good as anything they've ever done, proof positive that Machine Head is a long way from running out of gas yet.

24. Teitanblood - Death

This Spanish band's second album is as pummeling and arduous a listen as I encountered this past year. At nearly 70 minutes in length, much of it filled with absolutely insane riffing and equally punishing double bass drumming, Death is sure to test the patience of even the most hardened listener. But this is no one-dimensional bash-fest. As brutal as Teitanblood are capable of being, they know how to build tension and and open up their arrangements with different textures and intriguing instrumentation. In that respect, they're similar to the likes of Nile and Morbid Angel, two genre heavyweights who are capable of keeping things more interesting and dynamic than your average death metal band. Check the awesome 12 and a half minute tour de force "Sleeping Throats of the Antichrist" for proof.

23. The Pack AD - Do Not Engage

Vancouver's The Pack A.D. is one of the best rock bands going these days, and this is their finest record yet. All throughout, Becky Black lays down vintage Stooges Ur-riffs and tops 'em with a banshee wail that pierces the heavens while Maya Miller commits assault and battery on the kit. The evident enthusiasm with which The Pack play is simply oozing from these grooves. Everything is high energy and raw, even though this is the best production job they've ever had. The likes of "Airborne," "Battering Ram" and "The Water" contain some of their best pop hooks ever, yet Do Not Engage is also harder and freakier than they've ever gotten before. There's a real psychedelic edge here too, meaning the album doubles as both a biker rock burner and a nocturnal headphone record. If you don't know 'em yet, get on the bandwagon.

22. Lumerians - Transmissions From Telos Vol. III

The San Francisco astral travelers’ newest album opens with a fuzzy bassline, followed by groovy drumming and wavy guitars weaving simple patterns into a trance-inducing groove. In other words, it sounds like Lumerians. With the help of some spaced out free rock keyboard and guitar soundscapes, plenty of effects and boundless patience, these hypnotists may have crafted their most mesmerizing platter yet. I don't know any of the song titles, because I'm still lying in the middle of the floor covered in beads and wondering where my favourite rug went. That thing really tied the room together.

21. Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden

Glancing around at other peoples' year end lists has led me to believe that maybe I'm not as high on this record as a lot of people are. I prefer their debut -- it had a rawer, more lived-in sound that appealed to me more, plus nothing on here struck me as instantly gratifying as Sorrow and Extinction's "The Foreigner." But that's nitpicking really, there is no question that Pallbearer are a special band. They've kind of found themselves in a similar position to what Deafheaven was in last year... They're a band that plays a type of music that is typically only heard by a niche audience (in this case, traditional doom metal) and they're getting a lot of attention from outside of that sphere. Time will tell what they decide to do next, but for now, Foundations of Burden is a sweeping, transcendent opus that looks to make a lot of new fans for this impressive group.

20. Pilgrim - II: Void Worship

These doom traditionalists have outdone their debut on this crushing sophomore release. It opens with a tasty 2 minute medieval guitar intro, followed by a thunderous full band trudge that sets the mood before the Wizard makes his entrance... It's impossible for me not to love the wonderfully D&D feel of the opening lyric, ritualistically intoned in a cavernous bellow: "In the master's chamber/I was turned to stone." Despite the kickass midtempo lurch of "The Paladin", for the most part this is a record that requires patience. Tempos here vary somewhat, but make no mistake, this is classic, lumbering doom metal with a fantastical bent and theatrical vocals that owe a debt to Candlemass. "Void Worship" and "Away From Here" are relentless dirges that suffocate with pure weight, topped with a guitar tone most bands would sell their bass player for.

19. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

First Aid Kit are a Swedish indie folk duo comprised of two sisters who brush their ghostly harmonies across crystalline acoustic and pedal steel guitar backdrops that invoke lonely roads and wide open spaces. Stay Gold is their fourth record, and it's by far their most accomplished and enveloping. Although they have hardly altered their approach since releasing their earliest music, they have refined it to great effect. Something about these songs seems blurry and nostalgic, like squinting through the sun at a half-remembered dream. And at their best, they have some fantastic hooks. "My Silver Lining" stole my heart the moment I heard it.

18. Indian - From All Purity

Coming off a breakout album in 2011's Guiltless, Indian sought to sound even more extreme by embracing noise music. This makes for the most abrasive record yet from these Chicago doom/sludge miscreants. Like everything Indian do, "From All Purity" is an absolutely devastating listen, flattening buildings with its mass and density, and burning faces with its corrosive vocals. But the new chaotic noise that is frenetically smashed together with the rest of the band adds a new layer of intensity. The new frontier in extreme music is the blurring of edges between noise and metal, and Indian are on the cutting edge.

17. Panopticon - Roads to the North

Panopticon's second album is a more cohesive blend of the black metal/bluegrass hybrid they've been forging for a few years now. Much like their full length debut Kentucky, and a split release with like-minded British Columbians Skagos, Roads to the North contains plenty of twisting, blackened sprints while injecting a gritty dose of rurality accompanied by militant pro-labour sloganeering. This is similar to what the excellent grindcore band Liberteer did on 2012's brilliant Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees album. Unlike on the intermittently awesome Kentucky, there are fewer seems showing this time, and the blend doesn't seem forced. At times in the past the blastbeats and banjos approach seemed contrived. Instead Roads to the North is a raging and transcendent black metal ice storm infused with the earthy, authentic spirit of classic Americana. Like Deafheaven would sound like if they got into The Band instead of My Bloody Valentine.

16. Blut Aus Nord - Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry

This French one-man black metal band has released some of the most daring and adventurous heavy music of the past several years at a time when black metal, and in particular, shiny, shoegaze-inflected, post-black metal was over-saturating the marketplace. Without resorting to the primitive retrenchment of so many kvlt reactionaries, Blut Aus Nord's 777 trilogy was an adventurous cross-pollination of electronic textures, triumphant experimentalism, frigid blasting, powerful guitarchetecture and clean production. Following that artistic peak, Blue Aus Nord has returned now to an earlier sound, completing a seperate trilogy that returns to a more traditional black metal approach that embraces the epic grandeur of the likes of Emperor and Enslaved.

It was the right time to do so, as the organic feel of the record stands in stark contrast with the high tech approach of the 777 records, and calling to mind chilling visions of snow-capped vistas and howling winter winds. Another left turn for one of the most consistently interesting metal musicians in the world, Saturnian Poetry balances beauty with brutality in a way that's downright inspiring.

15. Ty Segall - Manipulator

Something about this seems like Ty Segall's tour de force record. Partially this is because most Ty Segall records are economical, cramming about a dozen or so good, short songs into about 35 minutes. Manipulator on the other hand is a sprawling, massive opus that lasts nearly an hour. Also worth noting is the fact that in the past, most of his records mined one specific sound. Manipulator is different, displaying all of his different personas, from sad eyed crooner, to flower child, to leather-jacketed hoodlum, to studio bound obsessive to guitar hero rock star. It's probably not my favourite Ty Segall album (That would still be 2010's Melted), but it's an excellent introduction to the man and his work.

14. Behemoth - The Satanist

This long-running Polish blackened death metal band released one of the strongest albums of their career with The Satanist. At this point these guys are really just a vanguard heavy metal band with blackened roots, but the grandeur of opener "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel" and the finely crafted solos of "Messe Noire" are as mighty as any Iron Maiden or Judas Priest epic. Because so much of its appeal rests in instrumental proficiency, heavy metal has always been a genre that allows its practitioners to grow old gracefully. On The SatanistBehemoth have embraced their role as elder statesman, and it suits them. And it was much better than the new Vader album.

13. Tombs - Savage Gold

New York's Tombs made one of the best metal albums of the past decade with 2011's Path Of Totality (unfortunately for them, Korn released a dubstep album of the same name just a year later). It was a charred mix of blackened and extreme metal, sludge and thrash, fortified with steely resolve and a crustiness that belied the band members' hardcore backgrounds. So Savage Gold is Tombs' attempt to top it by being bigger and better. While I can't say I love it as much as I do Path Of Totality, this is still an absolute beast of an album. Even when they play fast (and they can absolutely rip), everything is impossibly dense and heavy. 

The guitar tone here is frigid and bulked up to an absurd degree... Savage Gold is definitely cleaner than their early records. At times they bring to mind a black metal Bison, but with a more serious and intense focus... there is none of that BC crew's good-natured dudeness about Tombs. They're much colder than that. And quite a few of their compositions, like "Thanatos" and "Edge Of Darkness" are very impressive. Savage Gold is the work of a band that senses it's at the peak of its powers and wants to create a monument to its awesomeness. And I don't begrudge them that. But they could probably do well to scale back a bit next time.

12. Slough Feg - Digital Resistance

This is full-on, classic, lighter lifting heavy metal delivered in a heroic rasp by main man Mike Scalzi. Of course, he also accompanies himself on lead guitar, and is equally adept at meaty, chugging riffs and searing, wailing leads. Something about the way Slough Feg songs are constructed seems appealingly skeletal to me. For starters, everything sounds analog, fitting for an album which is ostensibly about fear of technology. They're not overwhelmingly loud (at least, not compared to some other metal bands) or brutal or technical. But the songs are so infectious, and the band just sounds like some guys in a room bashing out the most epic tales of sorcery and battle. It's infectious, uplifting and exciting heavy metal that presses all the buttons of classic Maiden while still retaining a raw, streetwise feel that is miles removed from some of the cheesier power metal stuff.

11. Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

These Irish stalwarts have been crafting powerful, anthemic heavy metal while retaining a blackened, extreme edge since the late 80s. Their 8th album is perhaps their greatest work yet. Thrilling and ambitious, this behemoth clocks in at just under an hour, but feels grand in scope and execution. The title track may be my absolute metal anthem of the year. Here's to a triumphant salvo of first rate heavy metal from a band that refuses to rest on its laurels.

10. Electric Wizard - Time to Die

As much as I love this record, I don't find that Time to Die is any better or worse than either of the Wizard's last two albums, 2010's Black Masses and 2007's Witchcult Today. Still, it seems from all the attention these UK Doom legends have gotten from the media this year that I'm just going to have to jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises of Time to Die. After all, I've been flying the flag for these guys since I was in high school, and to me they'll always be the heaviest band in the universe. 

The return of classic-era drummer Mark Greening for his first time in the studio with the band since 2002's Let Us Prey is a big help. As much as the Wizard has always been Jus Oborn's beast, Greening's assault and battery drum performance provides a useful counterweight to the godly heavy riffs of Oborn and Liz Buckingham. 

But really, it's always been about the spacey cosmic edged mixed with the sleazy biker-friendly B horror movie witchcraft that the Wizard have always imparted to their sound, and in that sense, Time To Die is another top-shelf release from a band that has long since established its place in the pantheon of heaviness. This is music for bad people.

9. Eyehategod - Eyehategod

After 14 years of nothing from Eyehategod, this is a record I just kind of assumed would never get made. After all, you're not talking about the most stable people in the world. But these legendary New Orleans sludgecore merchants have been through more sickness and disaster than most of us would ever care to experience, and it's clearly informed these songs with a whole new spirit of bile.

Informed by obscurity, poverty, corruption and drug abuse, and all of it percolating amid the shattered backdrop of post-Katrina Louisiana, this is raw, hateful music. The guitar sound is as sickening as ever, as gutshot riffs spill out over messy feedback, stretching and distending time. Mike Williams' anguished screech hasn't lost any of its malevolence, and the sound is probably heavier than anything they've ever had, if not as raw. This is easily their best record since Dopesick. It's good to have them back.

8. Tinariwen - Emmaar

These desert guitar gurus spool off endless glassy guitar jams spiced up with chanting and hand percussion. It's a heady mix, and Tinariwen know how to build a meditative groove that's perfect for trance-outs. But if you listen closely, you'll find there's actually a keen melodic sense at work here, enough so that even if you can't understand what any of the vocalizations means, you'll find yourself humming along anyways.

7. Goat - Commune

Swedish world-psych collective Goat return with their second album, the aptly named Commune. Much like their debut, Commune is a pot pourri of all things trippy and mind expanding. Furious wah-guitars, fuzzed out bass, handclaps, unintelligible vocal chanting, weird samples, hand percussion and horns are all layered on top of each other to form mantra-like grooves that are utterly trance-inducing. 

The key here is the family like nature of the group. No one instrument or voice dominates the music. Instead, all sound is made in service to the group ideal, forming a cohesive whole that's more than the sum of its parts. It's the sound of a hashish caravan taking off across the desert for parts unknown. No one knows if they will reach their destination, but they'll take the journey together.

6. Black Anvil - Hail Death

I first came across Black Anvil by way of their excellent 2010 album, Triumvirate. I dug its mix of blackened thrash, raspy vocals and classic heavy metal hooks. I'm pleased that after a 4 year wait, they returned with an album that ups the ante, taking an already huge sound and pulling at the edges, making it more exciting and dynamic. Dueling guitar leads and relentless galloping rhythms abound, but Black Anvil also take the time to incorporate clean tones, psychedelic tail outs and sludgy riffs. There are some truly epic, lighter lifting moments to be found on Hail Death, the kind of bombast that never fails to get me to throw up the horns and headbang along.

5. Thou - Heathen

Of course, 2014 saw its fair share of ultra-heavy sludge. But there's something triumphant and grandiose about this record which elevates it to heights I just don't think doom or sludge metal has reached before. Oh sure there have been bands like Torche and Baroness who can take a punky base with filthy guitars and downshift into tar pits of feedback-drenched riffs and then add hooks and clean singing and a healthy dose of songwriting ability. But damn, I don't think anyone has ever written COMPOSITIONS like these. I mean, the guitarcheticture here is worthy of an Iron Maiden or a Metallica in their prime, but guided by the feel of unskilled labourers like Black Sabbath and Eyehategod. And those vocals... absolutely hideous in layrnx-shredding tone, but with undeniable force and command. 

The supreme grandeur of Heathen makes its presence felt immediately, as opener "Free Will" starts with a pall of noise and a somber guitar figure before the full band makes its entrance. Soon Thou launches into a mighty riff that plods inexorably along at a ponderous pace. These sorts of destructive marches appear frequently on Heathen, and each time the effect is suitably stirring. Thou have certainly studied up on their Grief, Eyehategod and Iron Monkey records. But "Grissecon," the best track off their previous album Summit gave only a taste of the heights Thou might climb. Growing more patient, confident and ambitious with every step, Thou added something uplifting, something vast to the music on Heathen. The result is nothing short of a masterpiece.

4. YOB - Clearing the Path to Ascend

Eugene Oregon's finest return with another album of shimmering, transcendent doom. Few bands can so consistently top themselves, and a very good argument can be made that each of their albums has been better than the last (Though I'll always have a place in my heart for 2003's Catharsis). Mike Scheidt still sounds like Dave Mustaine trapped in a wind tunnel, but YOB's mighty riffs inhabit a holy place very few bands have reached. On just 4 tracks spanning over an hour, YOB take us on a journey that's perilous, gripping, and spiritually uplifting. Begin your pilgrimage.

3. Earth - Primitive and Deadly

For a band that has gone through as many permutations as Earth has to affect such a stunning transformation at this late date is truly astonishing. Having done away with the dusty, cinematic soundscapes that first appeared on Hex and carried on until the Angels of Darkness double release they completed in 2012, Dylan Carlson has found a way to combine the distinct phases of Earth's musical personality into something new. 

The picturesque beauty of their later era and the amplifier-crumbling power of their early recordings are both here, along with a raft of collaborators who add their own elements to the mix. "Torn By The Fox Of The Crescent Moon" sounds like Slayer at 16 RPM, while "From The Zodiacal Light" adds baking vocals to great effect. In a way, Earth's music has mirrored their career arc... massive, deliberate, and inexorable. They may not move fast, but they're always going forward.

2. The War on Drugs - Lost In the Dream

It's no secret that a lot of people love this record. And why not? The follow-up to The War on Drugs' excellent 2011 record Slave Ambient was more dynamic and expansive, complete with woozy slide guitar, shimmering reverb, sunburnt textures and sleepy, dreamlike  vocals. Lost in the Dream practically screams "summer record", and its languid beauty soundtracked some of the best moments of 2014 for me. From boating on the Shuswap for a buddy's bachelor party, to road tripping through the Okanagan desert with my girlfriend and many nights sharing a beer with good friends, no record this year has as many happy memories attached to it as Lost In The Dream. Moreover, I saw them perform a number of tracks from the album this past May at the Austin Psych Fest while sitting under a tree with some buddies, which basically amounted to paradise.

1. The Body - I Shall Die Here

I didn't really have a hard time deciding what album was my favourite of 2014. Although killer records by Thou, Earth, The War on Drugs and others all got heavy rotation around the Amplifier Altar this year, nothing matched the brutal intensity, the fearless experimentation, and the bold conviction of I Shall Die Here. It's one of the only truly extreme albums I've heard in a long time, and one of the most unsettling. 

I Shall Die Here's seamless deconstruction of metal, electronic, experimental, musique concrete, glitch, field recordings, avant-garde and drone music is unlike anything I've ever heard. You can spot the influences, sure, and The Body's own work in the past has certainly hinted at their genre-blending potential. But this is a record that is utterly unprecedented in the annals of music. Seriously, nothing is like it. It's crushingly heavy, but at the same time it's been sliced up to the point where it's hardly recognizable as anything approaching metal. It uses plenty of sub bass tones which could reductively be seen as influenced by dubstep, but if the name of the album wasn't a clue, I Shall Die Here is far too bleak and foreboding to be anything resembling dance music. 

This isn't a difficult record though. As strange as it may sound, the use of groove and rhythm here is so subtly addictive, you may not even notice until you're nodding along with a particularly insistent beat that you realize you've been hooked. Much of the credit needs to go to Bobby Krlic aka Haxan Cloak, who deserves equal billing for the way he was able to harness the identity of an already unique but somewhat difficult band, and turn them into a powerhouse in his role as producer. It's difficult to make groundbreaking music that no one has heard anything like before, and harder still to make it enjoyable for the casual fan. The Body have certainly accomplished this, delivering their darkest, most addictive record yet. I Shall Die Here is an instant classic, a record which creates and inhabits its own world, a piece of art that will challenge your ideas about music, art, technology and emotion.