Published Jan 01, 2006CURSED
"I think hardcore has gotten really cryptic and empty," says Cursed vocalist Chris Colohan. "I think cynicism used to mean a lot more. Now it just seems like a social defence to be cryptic and above everything so nobody can rip on you, and it doesn't accomplish a whole lot." Cursed's own accomplishments over the past year, however, are impressive. The impassioned response to their second full-length record came not only from the hardcore community but a much wider, unanticipated audience.
"The record just genuinely went over with a lot of different kinds of people on a lot of different levels," Colohan says. "We've never really done anything in such an organised way before, putting out a record and immediately touring like crazy for about a year. We've played almost 200 shows." As to how such extensive roadwork has affected the band's own perception of Two, released at the end of January this year, Colohan is blunt and logical.
"We recorded it, and then we just played it 200 times. Your songs evolve live; we're very much a live band. I think that's our point. That's why we try to get far [away], so that people can take part in it. So it evolves, and you play it differently." Yet the quality of the work on Two, evolved or not, is beyond compare. The musical darkness that pervades the band's Entombed-style riffs even spills over into their barely-legible grey-on-black artwork, foreshadowing a uniquely heavy and visceral listening experience. Much of this effect is owed to the analog-only studio work of Ian Blurton, who co-produced the record with the band.
"We wanted to record it as much in analog as we could, without digital stuff. He just knew everything," says Colohan. With the digitisation of music coming on all possible fronts, analog music production is becoming increasingly rare. "It's a lot more organic. You can really feel it," Colohan says emphatically. "For our guitarists, and the way they play and the gear they play through, it's really good because they all play through old tube amps. They just know how to get the most out of amps like that. [Guitarist] Christian [McMaster] can have a $300 Sun amp that's 30 years old, and make it sound better than some kid's shitty triple rectifier mosh metal-sounding thing. They just sound so flat and soulless and percussive. I think that's the thing about most modern gear that we don't like so much. We can do more with less."
What the band do has garnered them quite a bit of attention since they dropped One, their first full-length, in 2003. "There are an awful lot of things in front of us, and they don't all mean so much. We're going to make our choices based on what's really good for us, and bigger isn't necessarily better for the way we work," Colohan concludes. "We established ourselves on this certain level, and we'd rather be able to keep it there consistently than blow your load on some weird bullshit dream that doesn't really mean anything."
2. JESU (Hydra Head)
Justin Broadrick has never been one to spare the listener, whether testing patience through his ambient/experimental project Final, or pummelling one into dust via the pioneering industrial/metal of Godflesh. Jesu's debut full-length saw him collaborating with ex-Swans skins-man Ted Parsons to create an awe-inspiring work of immense beauty and scope. Jesu introduced hitherto unexplored realms of melody and emotion, with Broadrick's trademark growl nearly eliminated in favour of dreamy, surreal harmonies and vocal hooks reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's most psychologically harrowing moments. Max Deneau
So Pretty, So Plastic (Tribunal)
Since 2002's Inhaling the Breath of a Bullet, Killwhitneydead have flattened the competition with their Necrophagist-like technical death metal, New Orleans-spawned Southern grooves and innumerable movie samples. Not only have they prolonged their stately metal obsessions on So Pretty, So Plastic, KWD have also upped the ante with a companion disc, the KMFDM-inspired So Plastic, So Pretty by KWDMF, replete with totally different samples weaved into the same music. Like the most furious Japanische Kampfhörspiele accompanied by Mortician's movie collection, KWD hit high-speed pay dirt. Chris Ayers
Black One (Southern Lord)
Amidst growing interest and activity in the realms of sub-frequency drone metal, SunnO))) have established themselves as true modern-day innovators. Black One is the magnum opus culmination of all their previous experiments and achievements; the occasion where they plant their Earth-inspired roots firmly underground and grow treacherous tree stumps of their own. It's also SunnO)))'s darkest, most ominous and mystical offering yet, marked by some eerie vocal work that sounds as though it were being emitted from the bowels of hell. Kevin Hainey
5. CEPHALIC CARNAGE
Mind-boggling shredding and raging technicalities deliver a healthy dose of aural punishment as Cephalic Carnage explore an expanded range of approaches, branching out into previously un-chartered terrain. Brutal moments of death, grind and even the occasional stoner rock groove paint a complex musical landscape that differentiates them from the hoards of one-style wonders. Once again these Rocky Mountain hydro-grinders have raised the bar to prove why they're some of metal's most revered thrashers. Jill Mikkelson
6. HIGH ON FIRE
Blessed Black Wings (Relapse)
Breaking out from the muddy production of Surrounded by Thieves, the Bay Area's High on Fire teamed up with the "king of compression," Steve Albini, for a record that fully realises their thunderous low-end power. The pace of the band now meets more often at a crossroads somewhere between the speed of Slayer and the doom-y dirge of, well, everything that's all the rage. It's the unpredictability of where the riffage goes next that makes this their strongest release yet. And nothing can compare to that gravel-filled throat of Matt Pike, who sounds even better with his vocals pushed up in the mix. Cam Lindsay
This Godless Endeavor (Century Media)
Ferociously passionate, This Godless Endeavor goes right for the kill then thunders onward like a thrash metal tidal wave, offering few chances to surface for air even its slower songs and breaks are crushingly intense. Fusing practised musicianship with raging emotion, the album is never static it snarls, coaxes, threatens, laments, blasts, hypnotises, warns and condemns, sometimes all at once. This Godless Endeavor unfolds like an example of classic precision and power, reawakening Nevermore's mastery of biting riffs, scathing solos, rigorous percussion, soulful harmonies and piercing melodies, integrating every detail into a new-millennial masterpiece. Laura Wiebe Taylor
8. GENGHIS TRON
Cloak of Love (Crucial Blast)
A strange fusion of bone-crushing grind, blasting techno beats and ambient grooves characterises Cloak of Love as one of the year's most creative and engaging releases. Genghis Tron's musical military campaigns oscillate between a penchant for blitzkrieg shredding and battle-ready formations of electro-attacks. Their ability to bridge two seemingly opposite styles of music testifies to their unique approach and sets them leagues ahead of their fellow warriors. Jill Mikkelson
9. GREEN CARNATION
The Quiet Offspring (The End)
The Quiet Offspring opens with Deep Purple-esque hard rock attitude, straightforward and good-naturedly in your face. But it's not long before Green Carnation's taste for art and eccentricity swims to the surface, with interwoven layers of metal, prog, rock and orchestral sounds hinting at facets more elusive and uncanny. The heaviest emotions on the album often come in the most deceptively laidback songs, seductively easing their way into your brain on the backs of ear-catching melodies. Laura Wiebe Taylor
10. ION DISSONANCE
Pushing the listenability of death-core to the absolute limit while bringing enough mosh to send kids spin-kicking through an old-folks home, Ion Dissonance's sophomore effort sent shockwaves through the entire community of heavy music. While focusing on frantic, mind-bogglingly intricate time changes and song structures expanding endlessly into sonic oblivion, Ion's strength lies in their ability to keep heads banging during their slower, pit-worthy moments without sounding like one big tech metal cliché. This is the sound of chaos refined and focused into a hell-bent, unstoppable killing machine. Max Deneau
After the Flood
With Eyehategod, Crowbar, and Soilent Green (who released one of 2005's best albums, the raging Confrontation) leading the charge, the New Orleans metal scene (or NOLA) is known for its heaviness and ruthless negativity. And 2005 gave NOLA bands a lot to be negative about.
Obviously, there was Hurricane Katrina. Glenn Rambo, Soilent Green's original singer, was found dead, and many others, such as Eyehategod vocalist Mike Williams and Crowbar vocalist/guitarist Kirk Windstein, lost their houses and personal belongings.
"Katrina's really put our city back," says Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower. "A lot of people aren't here now. But the people that are here are extremely passionate about the city. And the city's rebuilding, the scene's rebuilding, everyone's rebuilding. New Orleans is gonna bounce back from this and be a lot stronger."
Another setback is the recent incarceration of Williams on what appears to be an unjust narcotics charge. Eyehategod are releasing a double live album early next year to help him out; in the meantime, the band are working on new material with their newfound lust for life fuelling them.
"I promise you Eyehategod's gonna do the best record we've ever done," says Bower. "If people don't like it, I don't give a fuck. We never gave a fuck. If we cared about what people thought we sounded like we'd have been gone ten years ago."
With a long history of drug and alcohol abuse in the NOLA scene, it's surprising the band weren't gone ten years ago. But after Bower's girlfriend died of an overdose earlier this year, Bower says that "everyone" is coming clean, including Williams, who has long struggled with his addictions.
"I have no idea why I didn't do this ten years ago," says Bower. "I feel great. Two words sum it up: I'm back."
This new attitude and the anger and frustration from 2005's various disasters are going to make the NOLA scene in 2006 stronger than ever. Some of the musicians are still scattered around the country after Katrina, but they've got NOLA in their blood and will return.
"Mike summed it up best," concludes Bower. "He said New Orleans is a hedonistic city, it has a lot of very old culture, and it's a positive city. But the negative outweighs the positive. You have to get around that, see the beauty of the city, and take what parts and inspirations you need. Then you've won the game."