Onto the third week of /Countdown/2021 on amodelofcontrol.com, and this week I’m looking at the best albums of the year. As I’m sure I’ve explained before, I treat the “year” as 01-December to 30-November, to allow me a cut-off point, and to allow this to be done and dusted before Christmas so that I can take the usual break from writing over most of the holiday period..
/2020 /I LIKE TRAINS /KOMPROMAT
/2019 /Boy Harsher /Careful
/2018 /Promenade Cinema /Living Ghosts
/2017 /Seeming /SOL
/2016 /KANGA /KANGA
/2015 /Dead When I Found Her /All The Way Down
/2014 /3 TEETH /3 TEETH
/2013 /Front Line Assembly /Echogenetic
/2011 /This Morn’ Omina /L’Unification Des Forces Opposantes
/2010 /Edge of Dawn /Anything That Gets You Through The Night
/2009 /Alice In Chains /Black Gives Way To Blue
/2008 /Aesthetic Perfection /A Violent Emotion
/2007 /Battles /Mirrored
/2006 /In Strict Confidence /Exile Paradise
/2005 /Cyanotic /Transhuman
/2004 /Rotersand /Truth Is Fanatic
2022 saw the music industry begin to return to some kind of normal – at least in the flood of releases – and as usual, there were far more releases I could possibly have included.
A few intriguing statistics. Firstly, once again, forty-five of the fifty albums here are available on Bandcamp this year, and there are artists from nine countries: Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, Republic of Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Women are not greatly represented, though (30 out of 159 band members), which while slightly more than last year, still isn’t brilliant. As I note every year, I do not aim for any bias in my choices – everything here is on merit – and the stats continue to confirm that much of the music that we listen to in the “alternative” side of things is still biased in favour of men.
While I still try and keep the broad focus of the music covered here to the wider sphere of industrial music, I also listen to other music – this year perhaps more than ever – and thus the spread here is perhaps a bit wider than you might otherwise expect. You know what, though? Try some of this music. Especially the stuff you don’t recognise or don’t know. Go for it – I love hearing new music that someone else has enthused about, trying to understand what’s so awesome about it. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it will take days or weeks to click, and hopefully, something here will do that to you.
Time to cue the music. You can listen along on Spotify or Youtube. Links to the right.
/Noise Between The Shades
/la pochette surprise records
A quite wonderful find this year – proof once again that unsolicited promo emails do occasionally bring up something I absolutely want to know more about – was this German five-piece, who hark from Hamburg and play a very different style of music to what I might expect from that city. I can’t recall ever hearing German shoegaze, but as might be expected, it’s not quite that. Elements of kosmische and reverb-heavy psych-rock also creep in, but amid the formidable volume are some quite lovely, melodic songs, a reminder that you don’t have to stamp on every pedal in your arsenal to make interesting music in this realm (although it does help).
Hands up who thought we’d ever get a fifth Stabbing Westward album? No, me neither – not even after that reunion show in Chicago in 2016. The ground was set over the past couple of years, with a handful of new songs on a couple of EPs, before this album got announced. The singles were good – including an exceptional cover of Burn by The Cure – and the album delivers on the promise of those tracks. Wisely, perhaps, they’ve looked back for inspiration, with quite a number of the songs here harking back to the style of Wither Blister Burn & Peel and, to a lesser extent, Darkest Days – heavily electronic industrial rock, with those huge, powerful choruses that Christopher Hall was always so good at delivering much in evidence. It’s great to have them back.
Kill Shelter is Pete Burns, an Edinburgh-based artist who has made an unusual niche by allowing other singers to work on his songs, such as on this album, where a host of mostly European darkwave and electronic artists join him for what, in the circumstances, is a surprisingly cohesive album. Artists as diverse as Beborn Beton, Agent Side Grinder and Clan of Xymox are present, and they and others involved all add their own touches to the gloomy, mid-paced darkwave that Kill Shelter specialises in. In many respects, an album full of surprises.
/A Brief Moment in the Sun
While Soulside had sporadically reformed in recent years – including a new single a couple of years back – a new album, thirty-three years after the last, was a heck of a surprise. Even better was how good it was. Bobby Sullivan’s voice has aged well, a deeper, world-weary presence, while his bandmates – three-quarters of Girls Against Boys, that they went on to form after Soulside first split up – provide their usual, muscular backing, and the dense, heavy production here is a world away from the thin, post-hardcore of the late-eighties material. It still sounds like Soulside, though – just a bit older and wiser, and that’s no bad thing.
Post-rock isn’t perhaps as much of a “thing” as it used to be, but there are still bands around that make very good post-rock, and one of those bands is Gilmore Trail. This Sheffield four-piece are a band I’ve known a long time (and indeed the previous bands members used to be in), and this was their first new album in over six years. Not a lot has changed, but that’s very much in the vein of “if it ain’t broke…”: songs here are impressive, rolling vistas, with emotional peaks and troughs, and enough nods into prog to avoid making it sound formulaic. An impressive return.
A neat reminder that good rock music isn’t the preserve of white men. Nova Twins are two non-white women (with mixed ancestry) that this year released a great, catchy album that while described as a cross-over between punk and grime, at least in part is pure Nu-metal – and all the better for it. Antagonist is an excellent three minute pick-me-up, a song of personal empowerment (and a ripping metal anthem, too), and Choose Your Fighter condenses similar ideas, with bigger hooks and even bigger riffs, into little more than two minutes. There is no doubt that rock music needs more diverse voices, and Nova Twins are one of the groups at the vanguard of much-needed – and very much welcome – change. Big success should rightfully follow.
/Every Day Is A New Disaster
It’s been a very long time since the last album (thirteen years, in fact), and I must say I was very surprised to see a new release pop up in the early summer. Despite the years that have passed, broadly this picks up where the previous album left off. The gravelly, rasping vocals remain the most recognisable element, but the electronic base is fascinating too. Rather than following the herd with another EBM or electro-industrial clone, Syndika Zero has continued their explorations into the realms between industrial and outright noise, and quite a number of the tracks here are quite a bracing listen as a result.
/We All Bleed Red
The Leipzig-based duo Amnistia have long been a much-admired artist on /amodelofcontrol.com, and their latest album continues their progress and somewhat singular style. Taking influence from Vancouver electro-industrial as much as European EBM and body music, this latest release feels an impressively cohesive whole, with a flow to the album that feels well-considered. Not to mention an artist that is unafraid to slow things down, to work with slower tempos and allow dense, sample-heavy tracks to breathe and evolve. As well, though, they are also willing to step things up and provide slamming, dancefloor monsters too, but even those have excellent production and sound balance. Technicians making industrial music is nothing new, of course, but Amnisitia remain masters of their craft.
Ventenner have been a fascinating artist to watch over the past decade or so. A group that had, over time, expanded their sound and reach by some degree, and by the time of Hollow Storm, it maybe turned out to be a stretch too far mentally and physically for them. Thus, Charlie Dawe has pulled back, doing almost all of the writing, production and performance himself (Luke Jacobs does the drumming, but that’s it). So yes, things sound a little more stripped back, but that’s maybe for the best: it just showcases Dawe’s songwriting better – not to mention his formidable vocal range and power – as we get eight very good industrial rock tracks, that mostly work on building atmosphere and momentum, rather than thrashing dancefloor destroyers – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
/The Birthday Massacre
TBM were far from the only band to find they couldn’t tour a new album during lockdown, but they were particularly unlucky – Diamonds was released just as lockdowns kicked in, in March 2020. So they did what many others did, use the downtime to write more music, and the result was Fascination, that arrived in February this year. Their albums in recent years have become rather more downbeat, so while this album continues that in part, there are still fist-pumping moments like Dreams of You (by far the best track on the album) and Like Fear, Like Love, and poppy hooks abound too, such as on the heartfelt Once Again. The Birthday Massacre have stuck to their singular style for around two decades now, and that they’ve never let what they do sound tired after all this time is impressive work.
/Gone Long Before the Death of the Sun
Tony Young continued his relentless pace of musical output this year with another reliably great release. While entirely instrumental, his work often has themes given away by the track titles, and this one was clearly about enviromental collapse, and the precipice the world finds itself (not that some countries, including our own Government, appear particularly bothered about it, as it will mostly be a problem for future generations, of course). As a result, there is perhaps a more jagged, and at points, angry, element to the sound. Tempos are that little bit higher, beats are that bit harder, and Tony’s trademark mournful, comtemplative synths are near-enough marking an elegy for a dying world. Eighteen years into his solo musical career, he still has something to say, and is still finding interesting ways to say it.
/Atomic Fire Records
The tech-metal titans Meshuggah awoke from a relative slumber this year (their first album in six years), but then, what else do they have to prove? Their technicality and originality has long been an accepted fact in metal, their core sound being unmistakable (even with a variety of copyists around these days), and how much further could they push things? It’s where Meshuggah do things differently here that are the most interesting. Like the near ten minute instrumental They Move Below that anchors the album at the mid-point, a stately roll and chug that feels distinctly different, and aside from the vocals, I can’t quite pinpoint why. Then there is Black Cathedral, a two-minute morass of guitars that leans toward Black Metal – and most unusually for Meshuggah, has none of Tomas Haake’s drum work on it. Otherwise, though, this is Meshuggah doing what they do – which is still better than most other metal bands careers will ever be.
/Songs From Planet Earth
/Xtra Mile Recordings
Three albums in, and the sheer rock force of deux furieuses feels a little subdued. For a duo built around feminist, left-wing political fury, this is perhaps understandable. The last few years has seen COVID, the shifting yet further to the right of a now deeply disliked, chaotic Government, yet more hatred against immigrants and others (particularly the appalling “othering” of trans people), not to mention cost of living crises on multiple fronts, and a general feeling that things are going to get even worse before they get better. So many of the songs here feel a little weary, as if they aren’t sure if they have the fight anymore. But then the likes of the self-explanatory Bring Down The Government and the furious Know the Score (about violence against women) remind that they absolutely still do have the fight. There is a sense of togetherness on this album, the band reminding that to make change happen, people have to come together and fight, rather than splintering apart, and the closing Our Tribe is the best track on the album, as their blazing fury as to what has happened to everything erupts in three exceptional minutes.
It’s over a decade now since I first heard ∆AIMON, and over that time, much has changed for Brant and Nancy Showers – including what seems to be less of a focus on ∆AIMON these days. That said, this is the first SØLVE album (Brant’s own solo project) in six years – The Negative came out in 2016. What’s interesting over the first few songs, is that this new album seems to hark back to the very first ∆AIMON track I heard – that staggering cover of A Screw (Holy Money) by Swans.
That is, a focus on brutal, relentless percussion, and ritualistic repetitive tones: at points almost trancelike, but it is also one of personal strength and cruelty, perhaps reflecting the time it was written in, but maybe one where Brant deals with his own demons. An excellent, testing release.
/tick tick tick
The revival of the Cabaret Voltaire name (from the outstanding album and related singles) by Richard Kirk in the past few years was prematurely ended by Kirk’s death in late 2021, but Stephen Mallinder’s own work in recent years has perhaps been closer to elements of the Cabs’ sound than it has been since he left the band. The Cabs, of course, morphed and evolved as fast as the technology they were using did, and Mal has continued that in his solo work. tick tick tick is fascinating in the restless nature across the album, as it takes in techno, funk, industrial and experiments with electronics and vocals, and despite dipping into familiar realms, could only be the work of Stephen Mallinder. His legacy of course has long been celebrated, now he’s free to explore wherever he damned well pleases, and it suits him well.
/Profound Lore Records
You know that idea of “blackened death metal”, basically death metal with a bit more of an “edge” and “atmosphere”? Well, Hissing take that idea and toss it down a well, and then jump down after and stamp on it for good measure. Literally, everything about this album is grimy, dank and forbidding – and really, really fucking loud. Beyond the furious musical attack, though, are the bits at the edges, that have you wondering what you just heard. Like what might be a dissonant, treated horn being played at the end of the maelstrom that is Cells of Nonbeing, or the sudden and jarring tempo changes that seem to happen just because they like fucking with the listener’s attention, or the general suffocating atmosphere that they’ve concocted, and lingers across the entire release. If you like bands that push things to the literal extremes, this one is for you.
Cloud Rat do (excellent) grindcore. There: if you don’t like grindcore, you can probably move onto the next entry. But if you do like your metal extremely fast, Cloud Rat have got what you need. The vocals sound like they are gargling gravel, the band are mostly playing as fast and as hard as they can, and there are brief breakdowns that threaten imminent violence nice and often. But there are also elements that suggest the band are willing to look beyond that, such as the unexpected pause for breath in the fantastic Cusp, where dark ambient takes over for a few seconds – and they then, of course, toss you directly back into the maelstrom. There are even nods to post-punk atmospheres, too (especially on the surprisingly dark Kaleidoscope), part of the proof that there are still new ideas to be had in grindcore, and it seems Cloud Rat are thinking of most of them.
Long recognised as one of the greatest live bands around, the last couple of albums by Gogol Bordello haven’t perhaps quite hit the mark as they should. But as the band bounced back from lockdown, and tried the process the horrific events in Ukraine, it seems to have lit a fire under Eugene Hütz and his bandmates. Working alongside legendary hardcore figure Walter Schreifels as producer, this album absolutely fizzes with energy and power, one built from solidarity, perseverence and the belief in the human spirit, and the result is the best Gogol album in years. It includes a reworking of an old Fugazi classic (Blueprint), H.R. from Bad Brains drops by to offer their support, and a number of Ukrainian artists get involved too. As always with Gogol at their best, it’s a wild party that you want to be part of, but with the constant reminder here that this party is part of a wider fight that needs to be won.
From the first track to the last, the ninth album by Detroit duo ADULT. feels fractured and disconnected – and that’s clearly by design. In a world that has literally fallen apart and been shaken up like nothing we’ve experienced in our lifetimes in recent years, the sound of ADULT. is even more cold and distant than they’ve ever been, too. It’s about the little touches – like the out-of-step beats on Fools (We Are…), that wrongfoot the brain as the rhythm simply refuses to follow the patterns you might expect, while the lengthy Normative Sludge has crashes of samples that sound like sticks on sheets of metal (some kind of primal therapy, perhaps). That said, ADULT. have long been somewhat belligerent outliers in electronic music, and this album reinforces their position as innovators and fiercely independent curators of their own path.
/One Little Independent
When this album was announced, Björk’s comments suggested that the album would feature “bass clarinets and gabber”: and she wasn’t wrong. This album feels like Björk’s more playful side re-emerging, with quite remarkable compositions that feel organic in construction, as if they were permitted to grow and evolve – but that might be all the references to mushrooms and fungi that pepper the lyrics of the album. It’s certainly, too, something of an album about rebirth and reconnection, and the joy of that comes across in the thundering gabber beats (when they appear), and the almost funny use of bass clarinets at inopportune moments, not to mention the multi-tracked vocals that give choral effects. In case you didn’t already know, there really isn’t anyone in music quite like Björk. She makes the complex feel effortless, the challenging to be fun. Fossora, despite the conceptual depth and decidedly avant-garde instrumentation, is a fucking joy to listen to.
/Sleeping Through Summer
/3 Minute Records
The much-delayed second album from dexy (initially planned in 2020, as I recall, but much-delayed due to COVID and lockdowns) was very much worth the wait. Very much an alt-rock throwback – with lashings of Americana and even the odd nod to glam rock – in styling, it is an album full of great, earnest songs where dexy is unafraid to let his emotions be exposed for all to see. As well as the clear highlight and opener I Don’t Think I Turned Out Right, there are other moments of particular note. Such as the subtle country twang and guest vocals from Lily (Fightmilk) on the excellent A Little Victory, as well as the gentle ballad Here Comes The Rain that perhaps nods to Springsteen’s acoustic work. An accomplished, much-recommended second album.
/Volumes of Vomit
/Gore House Productions
The band with the best logo in extreme metal reminded us at the beginning of the year that they are far more than just puerile humour. OK, so the puerile humour still is there too, as track titles like Tactical Chunder and I Believe In Dani Filth and the grim cover art confirm. But get past the deliberate ribbing of Death/Goregrind cliches, and it turns out Party Cannon slam harder than just about everyone else. There are headspinning, technical tracks aplenty, full of lightspeed riffs, insane drum fills and unintelligable grunted vocals – you know, exactly as I’d expect. Frankly it’s brilliant.
/What’s Your Rupture?
NYC-based BODEGA broke through with the outstanding, smart Endless Scroll a few years back, and this second full-length album seemed to rather get buried in the post-lockdown rush earlier this year – which was a shame, as once you got into it, it was easily the equal of Endless Scroll. It just took a bit more time to live with it, first. The snarky, punchy tracks about life in NYC/the big city are still there (the outstanding Doers, a skewering of endless self-help and unhelpful advice, and the rather more thoughtful NYC (Disambiguation), about the ever-encroaching reach of capitalism and how history has taught us nothing), but just as good are the songs where the band relax into human contact and emotions, with quite touching songs about love (All Past Lovers is a whole lot deeper than the title suggests) and minimum wage jobs (the glorious How Can I Help Ya?). Sure, it’s basically the same, sharp and taut indie-rock, but why fuck with that when it works? BODEGA have got better by not trying so hard.
KEN stands, apparently, for “Kill Everyone Now”, and on this ferocious album, it’s entirely an apt moniker. This is their eighth album, and that experience and then the emotional chaos of the past couple of years appears to have driven the band to writing and perform eight songs that unleash a lifetimes-worth of demons. Noise Rock, as it is these days known, is always relentless, powerful and ugly, and this band push the ante on all elements, with dirty, heavy basslines and thundering drums accompanying guitars that slice through the mix like swords, and vocalist Jesse Matthewson roars his distaste at the world. While most of the album flashes past, too, the ten-minute centrepiece Lost Grip feels like a summation of everything in one hit, and slowing it down to the kind of pace Swans used to punish people with only makes it all the more oppressive.
/The Soft Moon
I’ve been following Luis Vasquez’ work as The Soft Moon for over a decade, and it’s been interesting to see how it has changed – from the blindingly intense, screaming guitars and synths of the earlier material to what is now a more balanced sound that also takes in industrial and post-punk, with Vasquez also more willing to let his vocals take centre stage. Such a shift has resulted in a distinctive sonic signature, but also yet another great album.
/DISCO4 :: PART II
Clearly, DISCO4 :: PART I was so good – or gave HEALTH so many more ideas – that they chose to revisit the idea, and I for one am glad they did. The same idea, basically – one new HEALTH song, and eleven more collaborations, and once again the variety of collaborators is wild. Everyone from Poppy to Lamb of God, Nine Inch Nails to relative unknown EKKSTACY and a whole lot more: in some respects it is a fascinating bit of curation, allowing HEALTH to introduce artists to their fanbase they might not know, but also to provide a shoutout to bands they’ve been influenced by. This is shown in the way that they appear to make a point of letting the work of their collaborators shine through in the tracks, too – especially on the fantastic ISN’T EVERYONE, where to begin with they hand over to Trent Reznor, before HEALTH’s sound bleeds into the track later on.
IDENTITY unexpectedly sends us back to the raw, more electronic origins of HEALTH with the assistance of Maenad Veyl, while ever wondered what Lamb of God would sound like remixed by HEALTH? The answer lies within. As well, The Body drag HEALTH into hell (the sounds in the track are what’s left), and they even find a way to show Street Sects some restraint. Even after many listens, this album continues to surprise, as do HEALTH themselves.
/Xtra Mile Recordings
Well into his second decade as a solo artist, Frank Turner has in recent years mellowed somewhat, perhaps – although his never-ending touring turned into never-ending, fundraising livestreams during lockdown, and now he’s back on the road again, he’s still a formidable force. His first new album since lockdown turned out to be his best in ages. It takes in his hardcore roots (the bristling Non Serviam that opens it), family issues (being shipped off to boarding school still rankles, if Fatherless is anything to go by, while Miranda addresses his transgender father, and how it has changed their relationship at last), losing friends (the heartbreaking A Wave Across The Bay talks to the late Scott Hutchison) and depression (I Haven’t Been Doing So Well is unusually frank, if you’ll excuse the pun. But most of all, this is Turner kicking back and fighting through, the usual upbeat feel present and correct as he continues to write armfuls of songs that mean something and will be sung back at every show until the end of time, even as he has left London for the country, as so many of us have these past few years.
Industrial pioneers continue to echo down through time, the latest to do so are the impressive Seattle-based group Black Agent. Very much of the aggressive, electro-industrial lineage (with nods to Numb, Mentallo & The Fixer, Skinny Puppy and to a lesser extent Front 242), their intricate, punchy tracks come complete with political agitation, social comment and a clear disgust at modern, right-wing America. As is always the way with this style of industrial these days, the production is immaculate, the kick drums punch through the speakers, there is excellent use of samples (some of which I’ve heard elsewhere before) and in general, there is a whole lot to admire here.
/Everything Was Beautiful
/Fat Possum Records
Despite suggesting last time around (on the exceptional …And Nothing Hurt) that it might be his last album, J. Spaceman (yep, he’s back using that name) returned with something of a companion (Everything Is Beautiful being the other half of the Kurt Vonnegut quote from Slaughterhouse Five), and with the life J. Spaceman has had, the ironic connotations of that phrase didn’t go unnoticed. Like that previous album, though, the general feeling here is – remarkably – one of positivity, as Spiritualized deliver another impeccably produced, life-affirming album of immensely augmented garage rock. No less than twenty-odd people are credited as engineers alongside J. Spaceman as producer, suggesting (not for the first time) something of a tortuous production process, but whatever was done worked, as the sheer depth of these songs – with guitars, synths, string sections, horn sections, choirs and most likely a fair bit of household furniture too – is jaw-dropping, and none of the songs are uninteresting, either. Indeed, The A Song (Laid In Your Arms) is frankly glorious, while opener Always Together With You has a warmth and deep sense of love. Maybe J. Spaceman treating every album as if it’s his last might be paying dividends: it’s certainly creating remarkable music.
/Wild Type Droid
The remarkable post-reformation resurrection of Failure continued right at the end of 2021 (this was the first release to qualify for this year’s list) with their sixth album, and there was one important change. The band went on record as to note that their concerns were with issues down on Earth, which for the first time meant the jettisoning of their lyrical trademark – space metaphors and themes. Sonically, though, not a lot has changed – the band’s reliance on bass-led groove and chiming guitars pull songs forward with panache, especially on songs like Submarines, which opens with a piledriving, circular riff and breaches the surface with a staggering, soaring chorus, as Ken Andrews tries to fight his way out of the lockdown mindset. The production is, of course, perfect, as it always has been, and seeing Failure widen their audience with every release, no longer just having to rely on their original fans returning, is a sign of how hard they have worked to move forward.
/Aethyr Abyss Void
Ritual and an esoteric outlook, to say the least, provide the backdrop to one of the more interesting industrial-realm releases in the past year. HAEX had been teasing a handful of tracks in demo form for some time before this album was released, which certainly piqued interest and, naturally, upped the expectation somewhat. The album delivered on that expectation, too, even if as with many albums these days, it felt rather short. Cursebreaker sets the scene nicely, stomping beats, jagged riffage and Adam delivering an excellently deranged vocal performance, while Leviathan also absolutely rips. Perhaps even more interesting are the excursions into what can only be called ritual trip-hop, with oppressive atmospheres and a general sense of unease at play. An excellent debut.
/Notes From The Universe
The ever-remarkable Collide – a duo that aside from one release back in the nineties, have remained fiercely independent all the way – returned in 2022 with their ninth album, and it felt a little like recent diversions into remastering and re-releasing their two best-known (and much-loved) albums in the meantime had given them renewed fire. There’s not too much in the way of reinvention here, mind – why fuck with a formula that works so well? – but what they do here is build on what they’ve done. It goes without saying that the production is exquisite in detail, with an awesome depth to the mix, and kaRIN’s vocals have that lovely, ethereal quality of old, but able to bite back where needed. Their goth-darkwave-industrial hybrid sound remains rather unique, too, but here they let songs stretch out a bit more than they’ve done in the past (eleven songs in sixty-four minutes), without losing a laser-focus such as on the scorching, guitar-led Are You Better Now? that remains the highlight of the album. Missed out on their recent material? Dive back in here, you won’t regret it.
/Until The Day I Die
This Australian trio have long had a reputation for aural violence, both on record and live, and their latest release reinforces that view. Until The Day I Die is one of the most singularly uncompromising releases I’ve heard in a while, full of visceral vocals, pummelling scrap metal percussion and the kind of screeching electronics that would likely see me divorced by my wife if I play it anywhere near her. Seriously, confrontational isn’t the word: everything here is created to make the listener feel some kind of discomfort, even as an observer to the sonic chaos. Tracks build unsteadily and then fall apart amid the weight that is created, others, like the brutal Hate Is Forever, feels like four minutes of punches to the gut, while the title track completely wrongfoots the listener by being a bleak, blurred ballad. From start to finish, it is absolutely marvellous.
/20 Buck Spin
One of the finds of lockdown was the brutal industrial-metal-grind of Hallucination Scene, the debut album from Black Magnet. That was one of those albums that seemed to gain irresistable traction, in a similar way to the sound of rolling, threatening momentum that the album possessed. Happily, the second album is just as extreme, perhaps even more so. There is no doubt James Hammontree knows his history of the genre, and knows what works and what doesn’t – at points, the heaviest tracks have the feel of Godflesh, all thundering drum patterns and ugly basslines, but elsewhere skittering breakbeats and punky guitars remind of Pitchshifter at their peak (particularly the fantastic title track).
But smartly, he’s able to move beyond the obvious influences, such as on the stomping Floating In Nothing, which brings together rampaging industrial beats, a neo-hardcore beatdown and squalling guitars for a track that I have to hear live sometime. Elsewhere, the chugging metal-industrial fury of Body World is a fantastic highlight, and there is even space for a bleak, ambient-acoustic (!) ballad (Sold Me Sad), which works neatly as a breather, especially as we are thrown straight back into the carnage afterward. Two albums in, and Black Magnet are not fucking about – already they are looking like the pre-eminent industrial-metal band around as we close out 2022.
/Church Road Records
A thundering cover of Ten Ton Hammer brought this young band to my attention late last year, and then this (very short) album nearly ripped my face off. Not that you’d know it from the creepy ambient of the opening two minutes, but Coalescence unleashes brutal grindcore and mellowed out interludes, as if the band wanted to know if Pig Destroyer at full pelt and Deftones at their most restrained could coexist. The answer is, yes, they can – and across just twenty minutes, Heriot throw a ton of ideas at the wall and remarkably, they all stick. There is more experimental, ethereal ambient downtime, and bursts of absolutely ferocious metal/grind/core, and dabbling with industrial that plainly and simply bolsters both. If this is what they can do in twenty minutes, what on earth comes next?
/Zeal & Ardor
/Zeal & Ardor
For the second full-length album by Manuel Gagneux, he made it abundantly clear that this is no kick-about of a project. Taking the base of black metal and bluesy spirituals, and still imagining what American slaves might have sung about had they turned to Satan rather than God, this time around he’s made it personal. Ferocious tracks like Run, the most extreme track yet released by Z&A (and what feels like a direct challenge to the idiotic racists Gagneux has to deal with), set the stall out. Death To The Holy has an amazing chant running through it before juddering metal sweeps through, while Bow is a fascinating, powerful blues track that reminds just how incredible a vocalist Gagneux is. The album peaks with the staggering Götterdämmerung, where Gagneux attempts to reclaim Wagner from the racists of the past and succeeds in spectacular fashion with a monstrous three minute blast that should sound absolutely incredible live. An even better album than what Z&A have released before.
SCALPING finally, it felt, broke through this year after bubbling away for a few years as a “band to watch”. Their genre-shredding sound certainly gets your brain thinking and your body moving, as they bring in elements of acid techno, club-bound grooves, EBM and industrial rock, and despite being brought together remotely during lockdown, it still has the feel of one of their live sets. How so? In the way that it builds gradually, reeling you in, before unleashing their full rhythmic force (as they do on the astonishing centrepiece, Cloak & Dagger, which has the kind of sonic power you feel down to your bones). Elsewhere, the weirdly shoegaze fever-dream of Flashforward fascinates, while the vocal turns from DÆMON and Grove add elements we never even knew SCALPING needed. I’ll bet the farm that the next album sees them take these ideas to even wilder places.
A surprising release to me – as usual, I’d slept on their previous work, it appears – was this gorgeous, lush album. An artist that was initially described to me as post-punk turned out to be selling them astonishingly short. Instead, they dip into the darker, slower corners of Goth, the swooning dream-pop landscapes of the eighties, and concocted a mesmerising album that has turned into something of a comfort album across what has been a difficult year. And yes, they do dive into post-punk too (the electrifying charge of I Am You is proof of that), but the balladry here is the selling point – and if the sweet despair of Porcelain doesn’t move you, I can’t help.
Apparently this band were pigeonholed as shoegaze for their earlier releases: clearly this rankled, as this phenomenal album ratchets up the noise in different ways. Katie Ball’s sweet tones are at the heart of the storm, but true to their shoegazy roots, she is not the focal point – most of the time, the ferocious, treated and squalling twin guitars dominate the mix to thrilling effect. Indeed the barrage of effects and pedals the guitarists use adds textures and sounds that perhaps could be familiar, but they are as much from the world of industrial than they are noise rock or shoegaze, and this young band fashion their formidable sonic arsenal into an endlessly rewarding album that may not be entirely visionary, but fucking hell it’s good.
/Then Comes Silence
Previous album Machine, unfortunately for the band released just as lockdown hit, was one of the best goth albums I’d heard in ages – and Hunger isn’t far behind. Like that previous album, the production makes the band sound slick and absolutely huge, as if the songs were written to be sung back by crowds in stadiums. Choruses arrive like runaway trains, they have a neat line in irresistable hooks, and their subtle refashioning of what is basically classic 80s Goth into something that sounds remarkably fresh and new is something, once again, to celebrate.
The eighth Russian Circles album doesn’t initially suggest much has changed: hulking opener Tupilak does everything you’d expect of this post-metal band. There is the thundering rhythm section of drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook, and occasional explosions of enormous riffs from guitarist Mike Sullivan, and a sense of relentless, perpetual motion. That feeling of motion continues through the album, but intriguingly it flows differently to previous albums, feeling like more of one whole than before, even while the band explore the outer reaches of their style (both mellowed out, mediative passages and ferocious metallic attacks).
Their best, complete album in a while, then, and even more fascinating is that this was originally recorded as a double album, before a few tracks were dropped to make it a single release (and to fit on two sides of vinyl). While undoubtedly the shortening makes this an incredibly focused album – and one of remarkable intensity – I do wonder whether we might hear the other tracks at some point…
For an album literally conjured up because the band were twiddling their thumbs, unable to tour during COVID lockdowns, this was perhaps even better than the previous, self-titled album from 2019. Familiar R+ tropes are much in evidence – as one review put it, you can practically hear the stage effects when they are played – with tender ballads as much as home as the bombastic metal-influenced tracks, and lewd tracks alongside political comment.
The title track suggests a band at peace with their legacy, but perhaps now paying close attention to the passing of time, while the initially shocking Dicke Titten makes far more sense when you translate it: a monstrous, catchy oompah-industrial-metal anthem about loneliness in older men who still lust after what they did in their youth, and the crackling, (literally) explosive power of Angst sees the band challenging the fear of the unknown and of change, both in their native Germany and beyond. Then there is the fabulous, crowd-rousing opener Armee der Tristen, bringing their fans with them into a welcoming, fiery crowd that’s full of hope.
This album has a surprising heart to it: look beyond the burning stages of their live show to find a band who are ageing gracefully, and encouraging their fans and listeners to consider the same: it’s ok to be older, it’s ok to change, and the result is an endlessly satisfying, listen-on-repeat release.
/The Emerald Age
I’ve long felt that Null Device fly under the radar somewhat – their measured, thoughtful synthpop not always right for the dancefloor (and thus missing out on DJs picking up on them). This new release feels rather harder-hitting than before, and a little more fierce in outlook too. It’s also all the better for it, with tracks like Flags seeing Eric Oehler baring his frustrations over right-wing nationalism amid beats that could punch holes in the walls. Elsewhere, the fabulous Interrobang is an atmospheric, glittering dancefloor banger, while they don’t forget where they came from with the lush, gorgeous Mayhem Into Ashes. An album of great variety and skill.
Kalle Lindberg’s side-project away from Cardinal Noire is perhaps now besting that, at least judging on this outstanding album that dropped in the autumn. The smart sampling and depth of production are carried over from CN, but here the focus is on relentless, industrial power. Tracks lean into EBM with sharp-edged synth stabs and body-moving rhythms that, if any open-minded industrial dancefloors remain, it should be slaying – Indeed, I dropped opener Industrial Action on a dancefloor on the day I first received the single, and got an immediate reaction – while Asymmetric sharpens the knives even further for a jagged trip into dizzying, rolling industrial grooves, and Necromancer ups the tempo and hits even harder. Few artists seem to head down this route these days – maybe it’s now going out of vogue? – but their loss, as Kalle Lindberg has released the best music of his career, that while looking backward for cues, very much has an eye on the future of industrial music, and in these hands, the future looks very bright indeed.
An unexpected release to crash into my top ten this year was this slab of ugly, paranoid sludge metal-meets-ferocious noise rock from Oklahoma. The titular chat piles are poisoned lead-zinc mining waste that are a feature of parts of the state, and this band’s music has a similarly poisoned, nasty edge to it. Vocalist Raygun Busch sounds like he needs an intervention at points, and in others he is railing at social issues with a startling clarity (Why opens with the line “Why do people have to live outside” when questioning how we deal with the homeless), while the band build a thick morass of sound around him that thanks to mostly programmed drums, sounds oddly mechanical, but only adds to the titanic power of the release.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, consuming weed appears to be one of the past-times of the band, most thrillingly referenced in the astonishing, ten-minute closer grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg. Raygun gets absolutely binned and Grimace the purple McDonald’s mascot appears in his room, amid a rumbling groove both Godflesh and Electric Wizard would have been proud to create. Never has getting caned out of your mind sounded so fucking incredible.
/As The Moon Rests
A. A. Williams had a surprisingly successful lockdown, really: a well-received selection of covers were released during the period, that gave an insight into Williams’ influences and indeed own musical direction, and the album of them that followed was very good indeed. But even that didn’t quite prepare for the brillance of the second album proper. It was already clear that doomy, slower-paced songs were what suited Williams’ voice so well, but here, there is an additional confidence and power to the delivery, and the production and sound of the songs generally add an impressive gravitas. Single Evaporate helped prime us to the emotional force of the album, but songs like the raw and lush For Nothing and sweeping Alone in the Deep take us further, deeper down emotionally than we’d ever have expected. There is a bleak, dark heart to the songs, but A. A. Williams never lets it defeat them, and the fight at the heart of every song here grows, by the end of the epic title track that closes the album, to be a mighty victory.
Zola Jesus has never been one for subtle songs, particularly. Her songs are best wrapped in dramatic flourishes (with a voice like Nika Roza Danilova has, how could they not?), and ARKHON is full of them. This is assisted by producer Randall Dunn (no stranger to towering, all-encompassing volume with Sunn O))), of course) and drummer Matt Chamberlain, and their input both helped Danilova out of a writing rut, but also inspired an evolution of her sound. Sure, her dramatic voice and jaw-dropping range is used to full effect, and indeed dominates the record as it should, but her collaborators involvement results in a colossal scope of her sound (this demands a hefty volume and good speakers) as well as rhythm patterns that make some of the songs sound radically different (particularly the ripping, primal roar of Sewn). Change can be a good thing, and after the utter despair and determination to live of OKOVI, this album faces down loss, daring it to drag her down. Another brilliant record from a genuinely underrated artist who deserves so much more.
Dubstar initially promised releases rather more often when One was released, although to be fair, they could hardly have forseen the chaos of the past few years. Anyway, the long-promised Two arrived earlier this year, and it was worth every minute of the wait. An album at least in part written during lockdowns (something made obvious by the haunting, desperately forlorn Hygeine Strip), Sarah Blackwood at points sounds more powerful than ever, as if she’s ridden out the storm and is now fighting back, but at others she sounds completely defeated by everything life has thrown at her. Over twenty-five years since they first appeared, Dubstar remain a remarkable, thoughtful synthpop band who have an uncanny ability with melody and emotion, and they now sound better than ever.
Kennedy Ashlyn was already, many of us long had realised, a rare talent. But Ever Crashing is such a gigantic leap forward that it can only be applauded. Sure, it builds on the Cocteaus-influenced sound she has used before, but by the time Saved For Summer gatecrashes the speakers it is obvious something has changed a bit. It sounds absolutely huge, for a start, but Ashlyn’s voice towers over it, reminding just how incredible her range – and confidence – is these days. Like previous work, this continues to process prior grief in oblique ways, too, but it also shows a way out of it. This is shown most clearly on the staggering, eight-minute centerpiece Used to Love, where she comes to terms with a failing relationship with wistful memories and a steely determination – that and the best, swooning chorus I’ve heard all damned year.
Part darkwave, part dreampop, all brilliance. An absolute triumph.
/This Shame Should Not Be Mine
There is no escaping the fact that this album is a difficult listen. But it should be. Born out of their extraordinary Roadburn Redux livestream in 2020, this is vocalist Milena Eva’s reckoning with being sexually assaulted when she was younger – and it is a bracing forty-five minutes where her vocals pour out, as she tries to reprocess a traumatic event and the aftermath. The torrent of thoughts and feelings expressed result in a formidable expression of defiance and emotion, and the band as a whole rise to the challenge of soundtracking it, with the usual three guitar attack only used sparingly and instead, pulses of electronics like heartbeats work as a common thread through it. GGGOLDDD have long been a fascinating, brilliant band, but this is another level entirely: the kind of career highlight I genuinely don’t know how they will ever top. And, a worthy winner of the best album of 2022.