Aggressive Tendencies: Year in Review 2008
Published Nov 23, 20081. Genghis Tron Board Up The House (Relapse)
"The cliché is that as you get older, you soften up in terms of musical taste, and our band have seemingly gone in that direction." Those aren't the words most fans of a band known for their technical blend of whiplash grind and synth-battered electronics want to hear, but for Genghis Tron's screaming keyboardist Mookie Singerman, it's an undeniable truth. "We rarely listen to super brutal, technical stuff anymore so I don't think those elements are as present on Board Up the House as they were on previous records."
And yet, in 2008 the Philadelphia trio experienced that inevitable breakthrough year many were expecting since the release of their 2005 EP, Cloak of Love. Leaving Crucial Blast to sign with metal heavyweight Relapse, with their second album the Tron found themselves playing with everyone from grindcore legends Napalm Death and progressive metallers Baroness, to electro rockers the Faint and tropical experimentalists High Places.
As Singerman says, getting there was never a plain and simple decision. "In some ways we had the same intentions with Board Up the House as we had with [2006's] Dead Mountain Mouth," he admits. "We didn't want to repeat ourselves and we wanted to avoid the cut-and-paste songwriting that defined our first EP. Beyond that, there wasn't a clear vision of wanting to try more straightforward pop songs. If anything, our songwriting was more of a reflection of our current states of mind and the music we'd been listening to." Judging by the far-reaching sonics of Board Up the House, what he and his band-mates, Hamilton Jordan and Michael Sochynsky, were listening to sounds like everything from the expected blood-curdling grind ("The Feast") to epic prog symphonies (the title track), to minimal and ambient electronic ("Recursion") to the art of remixing ("The Whips Blow Back"). Though still falling within the broad spectrum that now constitutes what is deemed as metal, the Tron brought out another side of their music when they commissioned a handful of respected remixers to have a crack at deconstructing the album's tunes. The result was four companion EPs, which it appears have already influenced Board Up the House's follow-up. "It was inspiring to see our music interpreted in so many different ways. I wouldn't be surprised if that further opened the doors to what kind of sounds we incorporate into the band," he says. "We've never had any self-imposed limits on what kind of music we make, but I feel this next record is going to be exponentially more 'out there' and open-ended than anything we've done before. We're fucking stoked."
2. Cursed III: Architects of Troubled Sleep (Goodfellow)
Cursed's most cohesive effort in a legacy of significant releases, III's methodical pacing, infuriated lyrical content and enraged, aggressive demeanour set a new precedent for beastly domination, especially within the death-infused hardcore genre. A teeming mass of detuned guitars, severe drums and singer Chris Colohan's predatory, rumbling wail, III is the converging point for musical strategy and frustrated inspiration. Even more poignant is the fact that Cursed's ensuing break-up mid-tour fortifies III as the discordant swansong for a band finally establishing their own genre, let alone sound.
3. Torche Meanderthal (Hydra Head)
Their self-tiled debut was an off-kilter mix of face-melting Kyuss riffs and unexpected bouts of vocal melody. Their follow-up, Meanderthal, is an unabashed pop record doused in overdrive and Sabbath-cribbing breakdowns. And it works. Torche managed to produce a genuine crossover success without losing what made them a very powerful, very metal band in the first place. From the catchiness of opener "Across the Shields" to the utter devastation of the title track, Meanderthal is a blueprint for heavy, catchy and uncompromising.
4. Boris Smile (Southern Lord)
Japan's foremost vendors of psychedelic sludge took another step towards accessibility with their umpteenth album, Smile, an ear-splitting assault of blown amps, shredded guitars and burst drum kits. Delving into their extensive palette, Boris delivered what could be best described as their most inclusive effort yet, an achievement that helped open the doors to a whole new audience. However, before anyone could accuse them of selling out, they dropped a mighty, climactic low-end driven collaboration with Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley that left bowels erupting.
5. Fuck The Facts Disgorge Mexico (Relapse)
Despite a lengthy discography of albums, splits and bootlegs over their decade-long history, no single effort has so faultlessly nailed the cacophony, dexterity, thunder and antagonism of death/grind metal outfit Fuck the Facts. The result of exorcising the demons ensnared while touring previous effort Stigmata High-Five, Disgorge Mexico is outrageously grotesque in its heaviness, delving so far into black, noisecore and death metal, with allusions to jazz's staccato structures, that it thrives beyond and escapes even the band's initial expectations and control.
6. Misery Signals Controller (Ferret)
After following up their monumental debut with the only slightly disappointing Mirrors, Misery Signals played to their strengths, returning to producer Devin Townsend and ironing out their material to crisp perfection. With an exceptional mix and an improved performance from front-man Karl Schubach supporting their renewed vigour, the group rekindled the fire present on their early recordings, progressed towards increased fluidity and scope, and released far and away the metalcore record of the year. The epitome of a genuinely talented band, MS are evolving tastefully without sacrificing their original vision. Please never break up.
7. Opeth Watershed (Roadrunner)
Consistency and evolution: two things that can present challenges for any band. Opeth have always met both, as epitomized by Watershed. While parts sound like 2005's Ghost Reveries, Opeth manage to mix it up once again by including wonderfully fresh elements like the almost dance beat portion of "The Lotus Eater" or the beautiful and sublime opener "Coil." Opeth also answer anyone who feared they went soft, with the soul-crushing "Heir Apparent." Are Opeth the best metal band of our time? Time will tell, but Watershed is yet another check in the plus column.
8. Lords Fuck All Y'All Motherfuckers (Blackmarket Activities/Metal Blade)
From its abrasive title through to tracks such as "Man, Everything Sucks," "Why I Don't Give A Fuck" and "'Cause All Of You Are Fucked," there's a theme that runs through Lords' Fuck All Y'All Motherfuckers and it's certainly not euphoria. Channelling that aggression and frustration into a bastardized amalgam of the Melvins' oddball cacophony, Slayer's endless chug riffing and Black Flag's incensed fury, these 16 tracks are an endless assault of snide humour, vicious musicianship and overbearing distortion. Rarely does smug attitude result in such sloppy brilliance.
9. Bison B.C. Quiet Earth (Metal Blade)
The members of Bison B.C. emerged from the depths of East Vancouver, where leader James Harwell cut his teeth in notorious skate punk band S.T.R.E.E.T.S. With Quiet Earth, their debut full-length for metal powerhouse Metal Blade, Bison B.C. proved they could be taken seriously, with both technical prowess and soul-satisfying heaviness. A pummelling, world-class metal record, Quiet Earth paves the way for more greatness to come.
10. Toxic Holocaust An Overdose Of Death (Relapse)
The pinnacle of thrash's recent resurgence, An Overdose of Death perfectly unites the genre's crucial elements: double-time beats surging beneath seamless low-end chugging, guttural bellowing, expediency and a dark, apocalyptic atmosphere that's equal parts imposing and morbidly enticing. Rabid, furious and cryptic, guitarist Joel Grind captures the essence of speed metal. Factor in the occasional circle pit-inciting breakdown and from the onset of "Wild Dogs" through to "City Of A Million Graves," An Overdose Of Death can easily sit amongst the scene's formative essential albums.