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Beats of 2013

This has been a bit of an odd year musically for me. Once again, idols utterly failed to release a great deal that I found particularly interesting. Momoclo had a great idea but it was let down a little in execution, and both H!P and AKB have disappointed me. I've been gradually exploring more and more indie idols due to this, with mixed results, but that's sorted out one entry on this list at least.  Metal has once again been a mixed bag, with at least one standout release that ripped me a new one. Prog has done me in again this year, with most of my albums coming from that end of the spectrum. Last year's inclusion of jazz nutcases Panzerballett also led to me doing some jazz listenings this year, one of which made it onto my bottom half list at LI.

Originally I planned for this post to be like last year, with all of the Beats crew chipping in. However, that never materialised. Eventually I asked wu if he wanted to do a roundtable where we review our own favourites of the year, and then throw them at each other to see if we could find anything to love in each other's faves. But that was back in December and I've not heard from him since then, so I figured I'd just get on and release this considering it's been sat as a draft on here for about a month and a half now.

So yes: albums you should have listened to last year, by Krv.

ChthoniC - Bú-Tik

Song pick: Supreme Pain for the Tyrant

So, ChthoniC strike back. They've come a long way from the days I used to admin their forum and get reviews published on their album sleeves; nowadays the press following them is more professional and Doris is a sex symbol. I moaned two years ago that Takasago Army suffered somewhat from their change in the way they wrote songs, writing Taiwanese folk or enka songs and then metallising rather than the opposite. This time they've sorted out that minor problem, and refocused into utter carnage. In this respect it's sort of the opposite from Ayreon. Seediq Bale, Mirror of Retribution and Takasago Army comprised a (George Lucas ordered: with the third installment being released before the second) trilogy based around Taiwan's occupation and subjugation by Imperial Japan, and then the Second World War, and then the Chinese nationalist takeover thereafter. Freed from the constraints of this story, they chose to present a chronology of battles through Taiwan's history, leading to a much more focused and violent record than any since Seediq Bale. And it works, especially as they've all matured as musicians since then. Jesse's riffs are more biting than ever, and no longer can they be classified by genre as they used to be. He can be playing the most black metal thing ever written in a Chinese mode while chugging metalcore behind it. Since Seediq Bale I complained there were no true "anthems" in Chthonic's discography since Onset of Tragedy (from 2002's Relentless Recurrence), but Takao from Takasago ended that drought. However, this time there are about 7 songs I could have chosen for my song pick here. In the end I chose the one that had the coolest video, but so many to choose from is disturbing. Glorious album. Hopefully they release a DVD of their joint show with Babymetal in February.

Orphaned Land - All is One

Song pick: All is One

It's not often a metal album picks "being fucking nice to each other" as its theme, but Orphaned Land have done just that with their newest album. If you didn't know, Orphaned Land are from Israel. They're comprised (last I heard) of a melting pot in and of themselves, with Israeli Jews, Arabic Muslims and Levantine Christians all comprising membership in the band at some point. They're banned in a bunch of Arab League countries simply for being from Israel, but at their heart is a message of "stop fucking shooting each other, fools", which I wholeheartedly agree with. They have about as much respect for the Israeli establishment as you'd expect from a metal band, yet their new album is probably more prog than metal. It's as beautiful as anything I can ever remember having heard, mixing Arabic and Northern African influences with Jewish ones, weaving them with prog and metal, and then singing about politics on top. If you've heard of Myrath, it's a bit like that, just a bit more heartfelt. I think the last time I remember hearing a metal album this good that spoke about peace and harmony was Lykathea Aflame's Elvenefris, not that you could tell from the music. Still, worth a listen and a call to the local Israeli consulate that it's time to stop fucking around with Palestine and just get on with their lives.

Bellring Shoujo Heart - Bed Head

Song pick: [audio:http://www.intlwota.com/metalhead/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/13-Ice-Cream.mp3]

Bellring Shoujo Heart, if you've never heard of them, are an idol group. A rather bizarre idol group who seem to be stuck standing with one foot in a timewarp back to the 60s, but an idol group nonetheless. This, their first album, presents such a weird and wonderful mix of bizarre, progressive and downright out-there songs that you'll be checking what colour of tweed your jacket is, then realising it's in black and white. Some songs sound like they emerged fully-formed from the 60s, and some sound like they emerged from prog bands of the present, such as the song above which is more Muse than Muse are nowadays. The girls themselves are also gloriously bizarre. Mizuho is my favourite, probably, simply because she seems so utterly unenthusiastic in her proclaimations of enthusiasm. TIRA is also cute as a really cute thing. So cute, in fact, that the Japanese government won't give her a visa, so at the moment they're reduced to six members. Either way, the best idol album in fucking years, and if it hadn't been for slightly lacking production, possibly ever.

Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen

Song pick: NaCl

So, Ihsahn's released (another) new album, this time in a bit of a new style. He's gone fully experimental, and it's up there among the best things he's ever done. I like Ihsahn's solo stuff before this. After was a sexy piece of saxophonic aural violence, and The Adversary, angL and Eremita all had some nice stuff on them. Also, I quite enjoyed Hardingrock, and of course you can't mention Ihsahn without the now (once again) reformed Emperor, of which three of their four full-length albums were masterpieces of the black metal genre. So what does Das Seelenbrechen bring us that's new, other than a German title? Well, less black metal, for one. Jazz, progressive and noises best describe this album. There's also a song which sounds more like a Starofash/late Peccatum song than anything Ihsahn's ever tried doing without his wife, Ihriel, featuring on it prominently. It's called Pulse and it's a sexy piece of jazzy triphop. The opener, Hiber, got stuck in my head on first spin and has stuck there since. Regen sounds like Änglagård up until it becomes bombastic as fuck. Tacit 2 and Tacit (in that order) are progressive drone like you'd get from Khanate followed by jazz excursions into insanity. Rec starts slow then goes prog as fuck, M is a droning ambient sonicscape that reminds me of Thorns, and See is the most brutal song on the album in a way: it'll rip your skin off and leave it hanging on a stick. In a way, this is Ihsahn just doing what he wants. It all progresses slowly into a weird mess of gloriousness. Thank fuck for Ihsahn.

Haken - The Mountain

Song pick: The Cockroach King

This won't surprise anyone really. After the amazing debut of Aquarius and the pretty fucking awesome followup Visions, Haken did some soul-searching (and Tom and Hen took a break to record To-Mera's Exile album, also a must listen) and came back with this, their best record yet. In a way, they mixed the two sides that the first two albums showed off so well: the bizarre circus atmosphere and weird song structures of Aquarius with the maturity and gravity of Visions. What we ended up with is several slices of really sexy music that is sexier than a really sexy thing bathing in a really sexy bathtub full of sexy chocolate. Or something. I can't really say much more than that it's fucking awesome and you should be listening to it right now. Stop reading this and listen.

Tooting my own flute: My band released another album, called Elemental. Pay for a beer for me by buying it. But only if you really want to.

2 comments:

  1. One of my classmates is studying underground religious movements, so I linked him to the Orphaned Land stuff. And I'm also researching peace and conflict in the region, so this is freaking fantastic. Nice find!!

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  2. Of course, I'm late to comment on this but what the hell. If not for this post, I might not have ever listened to Bellring Shoujo Heart and I have to say I absolutely love this album. Their vocals are so brilliantly awkward and the music is so ridiculous that it just makes me happy. Thanks for that.

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