Aaron’s Albums of the Year

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It was a massive year with too many great releases to keep track of, let alone write up. However, there were some releases that rose to the top despite the flood. Aaron lists ten of those focal points throughout the year covering a range of genres from a potentially new style of Doom, all the way to Afrotech.

Artist: Stephen Roddy

Album: Leviathan

Label: Fiadh Productions (physical release)

Released: October 6, 2023

Country: Ireland 

I preordered Leviathan off of a half listen to a single track, because I was immediately transfixed by its trepidatious conjurings of unease.  Soon after its release and I was able to dive headlong into the rest of the work, I realized that is the point of the whole work, to cause discomfort and unease in its listening, to stir something primal within us that all is not right.  Artist Stephen Roddy’s conceptual titular Leviathan is predicated in part on the Ophite Gnosticism interpretation of the mythological beast and to a lesser and more derogatory degree the work of the same name by English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, where the former acts as a foundational concept of encircling the world and the world thereby being an outgrowth/extension of it and the latter being viewed as the internal rot pushed outward to choke the beast to death on the ever increasing materialistic entropy-the proverbial man vs nature on a mythological/philosophical scale (this is described in much better detail on Roddy’s Bandcamp page for the project).  The result is a 40 minute cataclysmic experience that is as important a listen as it is oppressive.  While there are not any lyrics to muse over, there are plenty of current events-political, ecological, socio-economical, and on and on, that can easily fill the void of contemplation in which Roddy’s Leviathan dwells.  Stark Droned out soundscapes are carved out of computer generated reverb, that gives the disjointed and paradoxical feeling of claustrophobia in a wide open space, as if a yawing maw of blackness is too all encompassing to bear in tracks like Piteraq over Tasiilaq.  While The Shinning of Karakum features Piercing guitar notes bleeding off into a wall of entrenched and distorted wailing that becomes a muffled echo distorting time perception.  All of which (and more) add to an ever increasing desperation that is easily reflected in contemporary, case in point, as I am writing this the projected forecast for Christmas eve in my neck of the woods is 50 degrees fahrenheit.  I live in Minnesota.  Leviathan is not an easy listen, but it is an important one, and fuck if the urgent poignancy doesn’t make it all the more beautiful.

Artist: Asphalt

Album: E.P. II

Label: Independent 

Released: September 6, 2023

Country: USA

Asphalt may be one of the biggest sleepers of the year, and I just don’t get how they aren’t crumbling the underground to dust with their stripped down, primordial approach to Doom/Sludge Metal.  Releasing three E.P.’s in rapid succession, simply titled E.P. I, E.P. II, and E.P. III, M.S.W (of MSW, Hell and formally of Mizmor) and TAS (The Acacia Strain) have offered up a brutal variation on the status quo of the current Doom/Sludge scene with their “low IQ Riffs” that cut straight to the chase, ignoring all frills .  While all three are equally brilliant in their own regard (and short), I found myself drawn back to E.P. II over and over again, most likely because it was my introduction into this killer new act.  Tas’ vocals rend and sunder each track, coating it in frothy blood tinged misanthropy that boils over and seeps into the marrow of the thing with M.S.W.’s merciless, albeit simplified, beats creating enough of a thundering to crack the bones allowing said seepage.  If all this seems overly gnarly and low-down basic, then you’re getting the point- with such articulations like the improvisational track The Krimp, Asphalt shows that the baser instincts prevail in some of the most ingenious Doom moments of the year.

Artist: Eremit

Album: Wearer of Numerous Forms

Label: Fucking Kill Records, Drei Gleichen

Released: June  6, 2023

Country: Germany

Eremit is in a class all its own when it comes to the form of  Doom Metal they play, simply because no one else plays the way Eremit does.  Finishing off their brilliant self-formed mythos in a massive three chapter conclusion spanning over two-hours Wearer of Numerous forms further cements Eremit as titans of the genre, or very possibly progenitors of their very own.  The best way to describe Wearer is to lift a description right from the lines of the opening track, Conflicting Aspects of Reality, it is simply, “…heavier than life”.  Starting hard and fast, Eremit pummels the listener with a wall of Blackened-Doom sound that contorts into an singular glob of cacophony and chaos with on the only clean and discernable note shining through is the bell on a ride cymbal which seems to only add to the confusion.  Like being tossed into a raging storm at sea, just when you feel like the initial onslaught is done, Eremit slackens the pace as they begin to move into their own brand of  Drone-Death/Doom but does not dampen the effect.  Drawing out each note more and more as the track progresses, the listener still feels the after effects of the initial onslaught compounded with each successive pounding of a swell that is Moritz Fabian’s vocals, Pascal ‘Kalle‘ Sommer’ riffs, and Marco Baecker drums, reverberating into the very core of their being-softening it to a formable mass to be transcendentally altered and reshaped  on the discordant trumpeting by Hendrik ‘Brede‘ Bredemann and the following Atmospheric void to be fully enveloped into the Mythos created.  At this point we’re not even twenty minutes into the record, and there is even more brutal complexity and strangeness in what follows in an experience that bands will be trying to replicate for decades to come.

Artist: The Divine Accolade

Album: The Divine Accolade

Label: Fiadh Productions, Vita Detestabilis Records

Released: May 19, 2023

Country: Germany

The self-titled debut album by The Divine Accolade is an astounding effort that combines major elements of the Neo-Classical and Dungeon Synth to inspire a chivalric tale over a relatively small amount of time.  As one could imagine from both the logo and the cover art, there is medieval romanticism tinged throughout the release, and it turns out that that is a pretty fair assumption.  However, The Divine Accolade progresses in such a way that it is rather charming- first starting off with a near pompous harpsichord and flute backed trilling in the opener of Quest for Certainty  that seems stiff to the point of being a little too serious with itself in terms of the Neo-Classical.  Then part way through the track this stiffness bends and gently folds away to usher in more of the contemporary Dungeon Synth characteristics and sub-genres, like a touch of Comfy Synth.  From here, we are drawn further into the fold with enchanting harps and a slow steady thumping of a bass drum mimicking a heart in the following track, Warm Embrace, that lulls the listener into deeper into the folds of The Divine Accolade and full on Ambient/Atmospheric in Femme mauvaise, before bringing them back around to the Neo-Classical and then dropping them briefly into the proto-Dungeon Synth scene of Black Metal in Doust thou Love me Yet.  The Divine Accolade leaves off much how it began in Lancelot’s Vow with the Neo-Classical bent, though with a touch more shading of the Ambient/Atmospheric Dungeon Synth aesthetic. What The Divine Accolade does extraordinarily well is explore a large array of Dungeon Synth components in a straight-forward and comprehensive manner, making it a well rounded and easily accessible piece that is perfect for first timers into the genre, and it is for that reason that it is well deserving of a spot on this list.  Well, that and the fact that The Divine Accolade fucking rules.  

Artist: Calderum

Album: Lord Cramridor

Label: Death Prayer Records

Released: February 3, 2023

Country: Spain

Calderum is the solo Black Metal project of the prolific Marc Rodriguez, aka Lord Mortuorum, Necrohelm and Tyrant of  Ered Guldur, Exhumation, Sanctuarim, Strife, Stygian Storm, Jade, Malfeasance, Mahara and TrollCave.  While Rodriguez’s other acts run the gamut in Metal genres, from varying styles of Doom and Death to even Stoner, Caledrum’s effort in Lord Cramridor  is solely focused on Black Metal, as he dives deep into the heart of the genre.  Taking the listener from Raw Black Metal in the opening moments of  Gates to Darkness and transitioning respectively into a Symphonic infused and Dungeon Synth-esque bridging in tracks like Foraging Black Steel or Regions of Thy Dying Souls and back through the Melodic and Atmospheric in the titular track, Calderum is an unending voyage of pummeling exploration of the expansive nature of the genre itself from a man who is well versed.  One of the most exciting aspects of this release then, is the surprising versatility in range produced while keeping the overall record clean and cohesive in sound.  Feeling like you are listening to a record by as many different Black Metal acts as there are track listings while still feeling grounded to the act that you came for without it feeling like a cheap gimmick or parlor trick dressed up in lipstick of a non-innovation having ass clown is a rare feat.  Caledrum is the real fucking deal when it comes to Black Metal, and its dissertation in the form of Lord Cramridor is a masterclass, of which other Black Metal acts should take note. 

Artist: Pyrkagion

Album: The Katechon and the Unending Fire

Label: Cestrum Nocturnum Records  

Released: August 18, 2023

Country:  USA 

Yet another sleeper this year in terms of criminally quiet releases is Pyrkagion’s debut The Katechon and the Unending Fire.  This cryptic release, wherein even the names of the band members have been obfuscated and relegated to singular Greek letters that, no doubt have deeply intrinsic meaning that I’ve thus far been unable to grasp (Ω ,Δ, β) puts forth what they term as Orthodox Black Metal.  Likely a partial connection with the first portion of the title- The Katechon, or “that which withholds”- a reference to a stipulation of the coming of Christ needing the Antichrist to be known before the whole apocalypse thing kicks off in earnest, which is really only observed by the Eastern Orthodox.  All of which is absolutely fitting, as Pyrkagion is dead set on bringing utter destruction across the two elongated tracks of Red Rays of the Starless Eclipse and The Unending Fire.   Red Rays brings a ceremonious bent in its Atmospheric delivery before upping the experimentational aspect of the Avant-Garde with brief discordant interludes, whereas Unending Fire is more melodic in its frenetic approach that divides its time between harsh traditional Black Metal riffs and Doom inspired respites.  Serving as a cohesive bond between the two is Ω and β’s vocals that seem utterly inhuman in the way that they are garbled and embedded within the cacophony of sound that make them feel as if they are some amorphous fusion of a wholly otherworldly being conjured up from the annals of Weird or Cosmic Fiction.  It is a thoroughly unsettling experience when coupled with both the apocalyptic concept and the album artwork of the Guardian of the Eastern Solar Gateway, and it is exactly that which makes this release such an amazing listen.  

Artist: Pauldron

Album: Under a Reptilian Moon

Label: independent 

Released: April 14, 2023

Country: Norway

Under a Reptilian Moon is a love letter to RPG’s, steeped in nostalgia of the Super Nintendo/N64 era and set to the tune and aesthetic of Dungeon Synth.  Having grown up in that era myself, I would be lying if I were to say that this release didn’t play on my own sentimentality.  However, that is what makes this release special, it is both widely accessible to people who have experienced the RPG’s of yore (or contemporaneously, given the retro-trend with some indie game developers) and uniquely personal to the individuals experience with their favorite RPG, whether played solo or with friends.  A Magic Seal in the Tangled Forest, for instance doesn’t really remind me of a singular game per se, rather the experience of exploration in dungeon crawling/item finding in my various Final Fantasy, Zelda and Might and Magic playing haydays; with its serenely calm and lackadaisical harp pluckings played out over a trickling water backing track, with just enough thrumming of a bass line at intermittent intervals to intimate a small sense of foreboding that increases incrementally towards the end recreates an element of that wonderment and enchantment.  Encapsulated within this release there is also another component that is rarely discussed with nostalgia, which is melancholy.  While Under a Reptilian Moon is not what I would call a “depressing listen”, it is tinged with a foggines to it that shades the whole experience, the tempo is slightly down-turned, never really catching up with the Super Nintendo/N64 aesthetic, coupled with elongated moments of, seemingly, mournful brooding (see the titular track) that lends a maturity to the whole release; as if in recognition of the unobtainable past.  Nevertheless, Pauldron has created something truly unique in terms of pushing the burgeoning Fantasy Synth sub-genre forward with this wholly immersive piece.

Artist: None

Album: Inevitable

Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records  

Released: June 6, 2023

Country: Canada

The anonymous None return with Inevitable, to serve up another dose of bleak and beautiful  DSBM.  While not quite as reliant on the tonally atmospheric as their previous releases, None instead tune in and turn up the suffering with some of the best vocals of the year and most anguished of the genre, setting themselves apart by increasing their vulnerability in making their lyrics less shrouded in ambience.  This does not mean that they’ve abandoned ambience outright, far from it – as there a large large swathes of the album devoted to it.  Instead they have shifted the focus of its intent, increasing the isolationist and detached feeling that one comes to expect in DSBM.  Where Inevitable differs from your run of the mill DSBM releases however, and how they have further cemented themselves as staples of the genre upon its release, is how they have developed and capitalized on the relationship of the ambient state and the noise of Black Metal.  Bursts of anguished screaming that echo through the track and run headlong into a wall of gritty riffs and thundering beats fall off, and become more muddled and difficult to understand as the record progresses, giving into longer and more mournful periods of sullen atmosphere- going so far as to give an echoed recall of records past.  This progression gives the overall album a drudged out, sinking feeling that is more an experiential episodic depressive state than a typical overly “raw” DSBM release with its continued onslaught of abrasiveness.  It hardly feels like None is even restraining themselves, rather, they are in between periods of intense articulation with their seemingly spasmodic outburst, nursed between longer periods of convalescences, gathering just enough strength to go another round.  It’s no wonder the last track of the album is entitled Rest, and how it is well deserved for putting out such a masterwork of exploration into such a complex and difficult emotion.

Artist: FāëM

Album: Nothing to Lose

Label: Heritage Harmony Records  

Released: July 2, 2023

Country:  Nigeria 

Listening to almost exclusively Heavy/Extreme Metal and Dungeon Synth these days, things can get a little dreary at times, despite some of the warmer and sillier aspects/tendencies inherent in those respective genres.  However, every now and again a totally disparate (for me) release comes along and hits just right, and the Nigerian brother duo of FāëM did just that this year with Nothing to Lose.  Somewhere between House- dance styled groves and the introspective musings of  Alternative Electronic of the early aughts, Nothing to Lose gives off an infectiously uplifting, yet mellowed out feeling in a style all its own.  One of the more interesting aspects of Nothing to Lose is in how beat driven the entire record is, which isn’t necessarily surprising given its Afrohouse/Afrotech taggings, without being overbearing. Tracks like ONUMA (Stranger) or HYPOCRISY (Monkey See Monkey Do) make space for the backing tracks, and varying elements like bass, synths and various Electronic tack ons to take momentary spotlight or move the track forward before being blended back into the beat, creating a euphonious harmony throughout.  Giving Nothing to Lose in its entirety a singular listen goes a long way in explaining how it ended up on this list, and why FāëM are considered to be pioneers in their neck of the woods. 

Artist: Bell Witch

Album:  Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate

Label: Profound Lore Records 

Released: April 21, 2023

Country: USA

Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate is far and away my most listened to album this year, and one that has had a profound impact on me in terms of the way in which I view the Funeral Doom scene.  In their latest effort  Bell Witch goes to ungodly lengths to cultivate a reverential Atmospheric/Doom worship in the somber, while developing deeply rich tonality to create an extended moment of reality all their own.  Clocking in at over eighty minutes of a single track, The Clandestine Gate, Bell Witch somehow distorts the very perception of time of the listener with their melodic lullings, sudden deprivation and reintroduction of key sonic elements, and their stentorian vocality that coalesces into a monolithic production.  There is really no accurate way to describe the sheer immensity of accomplishment in this work, and even more impressive is the fact that it is only the first installment of a planned triptych that is supposed to circle back in on itself.  It is in this larger scope of conceptualism that Bell Witch truly excels, in not so much redrawing the boundaries of possibilities within the realm,  but creating an entirely new fucking map of a different planet that no other Funeral Doom act seems to know the existence of quite yet.  While it is unclear what the future holds for anyone, I would be more shocked in the coming years if Future’s Shadow did not mark a watershed moment for the genre of Doom.

Be righteous by listening to and supporting all of this year’s picks Bandcamp:

Stephen Roddy- https://stephenroddy.bandcamp.com/album/leviathan

Asphalt- https://eatingasphalt.bandcamp.com/album/e-p-ii

Eremit- https://fuckingkillrecords.bandcamp.com/album/eremit-wearer-of-numerous-forms

The Divine Accolade- https://thedivineaccolade.bandcamp.com/album/the-divine-accolade 

Caledrum- https://calderum.bandcamp.com/album/lord-cramridor 

Pyrkagion- https://cestrum-nocturnum.bandcamp.com/album/the-katechon-and-the-unending-fire 

Pauldron- https://pauldronds.bandcamp.com/album/under-a-reptilian-moon

None- https://hypnoticdirgerecords.bandcamp.com/album/inevitable

FāëM- https://faemmusic.bandcamp.com/album/nothing-to-lose 

Bell Witch- https://bellwitch.bandcamp.com/album/futures-shadow-part-1-the-clandestine-gate 

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