2008's Top Underground Metal (etc.) Releases, Pt. 2
Why Are We Not Perfect (Hydra Head)
Technically not a heavy release, but how can we discount Justin Broadrick, founding member of both Napalm Death and Godflesh? Fed up with the single-minded bludgeoning of those classic acts, Broadrick's intention from the start in forming Jesu was so that he could balance his heavy side with melodicism and thick, shoegaze-y guitar layering.
But on this EP he reveals some of the most delicate sentiments of his career. Metalheads should be listening to stuff like this; it gives the heavier stuff more weight -- and shows just how profound a seasoned heavy-music veteran can be with the skillfull application of introspection and mellowness. Prong's Tommy Victor once spoke of the importance of expressing vulnerability while making a heavy sound. Kudos to Broadrick for bringing vunlerability to such fully-realized, emotionally affecting fruition, and for having the bravery to do so without diluting the power of his work.
The Way of All Flesh (Prosthetic)
Life can be tricky for metalheads who turn to heavy music to galvanize their conscience. If that sounds like a stereotype, admit it: Plenty of metal bands play into the tough guy/ meathead / douchebag / yahoo / sociopath thing and do it with pride. Gojira isn't one of those bands. But the French quartet doesn't simply spew pointed political sloganeering either. Instead, the band gets into heady territory with its own strikingly esoteric twist on environmentalism and spirituality that verges on full-on metaphysical inquiry.
For a band to do that within the context of progressive death metal and not be obvious about it should come as nothing short of a revelation to genre aficionados hungering for more than the usual stuff about rotting cadavers. Don't get the wrong idea. Gojira has bodily obsessions and a preoccupation with mortality too -- and indulges them on The Way of All Flesh -- but the band elevates its scope far above and beyond the usual treatment offered by its peers. On this album, Gojira seems to be exploring death as a way of getting to the life force that runs through everything. Heavy indeed.
8. Between the Buried and Me
Colors Live (Victory)
This North Carolina outfit could have easily sunken its own career by adding heavy washes of keys and melody to its sound on it's '07 album Colors. Instead, it dropped one of the most imaginative extreme metal offerings in a long time. It's understandable, then, that the band would want us to have another dose. Eight of the songs from Colors are presented here, along with a 14-song DVD of a live performance. The CD opens with a gentle keyboard line and some actual singing, so fans might be wondering if they popped in the right disc. But when the flurry of technically-oriented deathcore kicks in, the grittier presentation by the band shows its capacity to pull off the more ambitious aspects of Colors and bridge them to its deathcore roots.
Red Album (Relapse)
The perfect album for people who think they don't like metal (and for people who already do). Perhaps even more effectively than like-minded acts like Mastodon and Torche, Baroness seems to have innately found the sweet spot between the harsher metal of the Eighties and the more rock-leaning metal of the Seventies. Unlike the majority of its most critically hailed peers, the Savannah quartet provides ample reason for both metal-haters and aficionados alike to question preconceived notions.
With an uncanny knack for avoiding cliché, Baroness combines epic songs with a fluid part-to-part delivery that sounds as natural as water flowing from your speakers. The band threads its songs together with sinewy, irresistibly melodic (yet unpredictable) guitar lines. As strange as it might be to imagine, Baroness offers some of the most easy listening metal out there, which is quite a feat considering the thrilling heights the band can reach as it trundles through its songs.
We Are Above You (Hydra Head)
This is one of the few albums that shows a heavy band making fluid stylistic shifts from song to song, but that also strangely captures the raw, free energy of a basement show. We Are Above You benefits greatly from its thick guitar layering. At times, the band, which is led by none other than Cave In's Adam McGrath, sounds sludgy, at others psychedelic, and at others like a post-hardcore band working up to a sprinting pace. The whole way through, however, catchy-anthem choruses keep the vibe upbeat and make you want to get up and play air guitar in your room. This also makes for a great road-trip album.
-- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni