Shed the skin / expose the heart

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Because I’m now one of those people who is obsessed with making Top Albums of the Year lists, and because I’m one of those people who is obsessed with music and listens to a lot, and because my memory is crap, and because I want to help other people find their new favourite music, I decided to make a Top Albums of the First Half of the Year list. Sure, the first half of the year isn’t yet over, but time isn’t relevant/doesn’t exist, so, like, whatever. Also, my list just reached the 2-page mark on Discogs, so I decided that probably means something.

And so, here is my First Half list as it currently stands, complete with links to the Bandcamp pages for easy listening. I’ve only put the albums in order of discovery not preference (because that is arbitrarily reserved for the full end of the year list…).

1. Mount Saturn – Kiss the Ring (4-song EP from a female-fronted stoner/psychedelic/doom band from Bellingham, Washington. I’ve listened to this soooo many times since it came out in January. Can only wish they’ll release this on vinyl at some point.)

2. A Swarm of the Sun – The Woods (3 gloriously long post-rock songs from Sweden. Beautiful. Sad. Rather addictive.)

3. Horse Lung – ἔσχατον (3 instrumental sludge/doom from Toronto, a city who I no longer hate because they gave me the gift of YOB. The album title, btw, is Greek for end of the world, because doom. With the title track reaching nearly half an hour in length though, that end won’t be anytime soon.)

4. Astrophobos – Malice of Antiquity (Straight-up fun black metal from Sweden.)

5. Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch – An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil (Full disclosure, I pretty much ordered this without hearing it just because of Jarmusch, and had to write down the other guy’s name on a sticky when going to pick it up from my local record shop. While that might not be classy af, hearing the soundtrack to Only Lovers Left Alive is reason enough to get any album Jarmusch is involved in.)

6. Seer – Vol. 6 (For some reason, it makes me uncomfortable to get an album that’s numbered without getting the previous albums. That’s literally the only reason I haven’t yet bought a copy of this most excellent doomy album from Vancouver. That and I’ve completely blown my Bandcamp/vinyl budget the last couple months. I’ll rectify the situation before the end of the year, I’m sure. There’s something about the vocals in this band that really grabs my attention. Reminds me of a past life, or something.)

7. Véhémence ‎- Par Le Sang Versé (Perfectly executed medieval-themed black metal. In French. From France. Get it, tout suite.)

8. Man of Multnomah – The scorpion sways in the moonlight (This is the first full-length under this moniker from the ridiculously prolific Aaron Edge, a staple of the Pacific Northwest scene [so I have learned from my deep-dive into all things YOB]. I quickly learned at the beginning of this year to buy every Man of M release without even listening to it, but this one with its beautiful eerie western theme was a pleasant surprise. Very Dead Man soundtrack-ish but, well, better.)

9. NONE – Damp Chill of Life (Before this year I had never heard the term ‘depressive black metal’. And while I love the crap out of atmospheric black metal, DSBM can get a bit much. But this, this is gorgeous. There is literally no info about who is behind NONE [I assume one guy in a basement], but thanks to Saskatoon-based label Hypnotic Dirge Records, you can reliably get a full album of gorgeous depression from NONE every spring, and for next to nothing.)

10. Enisum – Moth’s Illusion (To be honest, I keep forgetting what this album sounds like, and because of that it is one of the handful on this list that I haven’t purchased yet. While that might not seem like a favourable review per se, whenever I listen to it, I’m immediately like ‘oh yeah! a top album for sure!’. I’m a person of little brain sometimes, what can I say. Also, to be fair, there’s soooo much gorram black/atmospheric metal coming out all the time, it’s hard to keep everything straight. Anyway, I’m currently re-listening to it right now, and, oh yeah, top album for sure. There’s something about the vocals on the title track that is particularly charming, and makes me think that I’d be kindred spirits with the singer, at least while we toured the best moth-sighting spots in Italy.)

11. Dead Swords – Enders (Until this week, I kept forgetting what this sounded like too, mostly because the cover screams ‘I’m some sort of black metal’ but it’s not. It’s really really lovely shoegaze, a genre I thought I was long done with, at least in terms of discovering new shoegaze. I also thought I was long done with New Jersey, but here we are.)

12. Drawn into Descent – The Endless Endeavour (Slightly doomy, very post-rocky atmospheric black metal from Belgium that reminds me of the wonderful Auðn, with a hint of The Appleseed Cast. Instant purchase.)

13. Illimitable Dolor – Leaden Light (I’ve quickly learned that the funeral doom sub-genre of doom metal isn’t really my thing. This Australian band though totally does it for me, I think because they bring more atmospheric tinges into it. It was an instant purchase for me, at any rate. Just hope the vinyl eventually gets here from Australia – their mail system has been known to completely murderize any vinyl I’ve ordered from there, treating lovely vinyl-sized packages as if they’re gorram crocs that need to be wrestled for goodness knows what reason.)

14. Damien Jurado – In the Shape of a Storm (My man is the official Damien Jurado fan in this house, as I prefer the Maraqopa trilogy to the more essentially Jurado albums. This album is a return to that earlier Jurado-ness but, well, I happen to love it. It’s gorgeous.)

15. Clouds Taste Satanic – Evil Eye (Okay, so I obviously checked out this band because of the ridiculous name, but to my surprise I found out that I like them. Not sure how satanic instrumental doom from New York could possibly be, but this 2-song full length is just lovely to have on in the background while doing your dark bidding on the Internet, or whatever. The cut-out in the vinyl cover is fun too.)

16. Sunn O))) – Life Metal (I’ve never gotten Sunn before, agreeing with my man’s previous synopsis that their extreme take on drone pretty much sounds like someone left the fridge door open. However, kOs-favourite Alexandra Groover not only has designed their stage robes for years but is included in the liner notes on this 4-song release, so I just had to give it a try. And I love it. In particular, there’s something oddly captivating about a 25.5 minute song that sounds like it’s going to end for the first 22.5 minutes. It might be more of a timing thing since my musical tastes have vastly opened up with the discovery of YOB, but I’m sure Steve Albini’s involvement [recording and mixing] has something to do with this making my list.)

17. Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky – Droneflower (Again, I listened to this only because of the second person listed, i.e., the singer of Cave In. Excellent choice on my part though, as Nadler’s voice is gorgeous, and their experimental collaboration works perfectly.)

18. Árstíðir Lífsins ‎- Saga Á Tveim Tungum I: Vápn Ok Viðr (Absolutely perfect pagan/folk black metal from Iceland/Germany, all sung in Old Norse with glorious chanting throughout. Hits all my buttons.)

19. Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring (One sub-genre of doom metal I truly do not get is epic doom. 99% of the time, the vocals suck [or at least the vocal style just hits my ear holes wrong], and the lyrics are too cheesy or are about some book that I’ve never read. Having nearly given up on trying any new epic doom albums, I gave this one a chance because, a) it’s Canadian, and b) it’s fronted by the lovely Sarah of Banger TV, i.e., the people who gave us the two best metal movies to exist [Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal]. And goodness gracious, this album is so darn catchy that both me and the man have been randomly singing it throughout the house since first listen, even though I haven’t read the books that the lyrics are based on. I wouldn’t say Smoulder has changed my mind about epic doom in general, but they have shown me what great epic doom that actually cares about the vocals sounds like.)

20. Eremit – Carrier of Weight (While they say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can actually know whether a metal album will be good if a particular artist painted the cover, namely Mariusz Lewandowski. Lewandowski painted the cover for this 3-song atmospheric sludge-doom album from Germany so, yeah, it’s good. Real good.)

21. Monocluster – Ocean (There’s something about the vocals in this German stoner/psychedelic/doom album that makes me alternate between absolutely loving it and asking myself whether I actually like it. The answer every time is that I do, and yet I still ask myself whether I do. At any rate, there’s a bunch of Latin in it and a whale on the cover, so it’s worth the question every time.)

22. The Well – Death and Consolation (This stoner/psychedelic/doom is more on the side of rock than metal, so the songs are shorter than I generally like since I went down the YOB rabbit hole. However, somedays shorter songs hit the spot, and this Texan band’s double [male + female] fuzzy, slightly Hawkwind/Blue Cheer-ish vocals will keep me coming back.)

23. Waldgeflüster ‎- Mondscheinsonaten (I seem to have a lot of German metal on this list, but this pagan/folk atmospheric black metal album is the only one sung in German. Totally works.)

24. Bewitcher – Under the Witching Cross (Cover by Mariusz Lewandowski? Ridiculous[ly fun] lyrics? Outstanding heavy metal from the Pacific Northwest? Check, check, and check.)

25. Big|Brave – A Gaze Among Them (Finding this female-fronted post-rock/-metal experimental Montreal band is similar to my discovery of Anna von Hausswolff last year, where I loved the new album but immediately added a previous release to my list of all-time favourites. A Gaze Among Them [just released today] is great, but the band’s second album, Au De La, has hit me like a ton of bricks. I hear a lot of influences all over their last three albums, including Sunn, Nick Cave, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and A Silver Mt. Zion, with the absolutely gripping vocals sounding like some sort of metal/hardcore love child of Nick Cave and Björk.)

26. Vous Autres – Champ du Sang (I literally just listened to this for the first time while writing this post, and know it won’t be the last. Sludgy, doomy black metal from France, in French.)

Photo taken by my man and edited by me, of a goose I used to know

Title quote: “In Our Blood”, from Clearing the Path to Ascend