So here’s some more long winded pondering of some music from Lovecraftian black metal to psychedelic jazz funk, all of which you should check out!
The Great Old Ones- EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy (2017)
I find it sort of odd that so many black metal bands confine themselves to only one lyrical theme. The Great Old Ones, if you can’t tell by their name, write songs exclusively about H.P. Lovecraft stories. They’re not the only Lovecraft themed metal band, but out of all of them, I can’t think of any that are able to conjure the sort of cosmic dread that Lovecraft himself pioneered. As a lifelong Lovecraft geek that has read all of his work, both good and bad, I can tell you that I was overjoyed at how great this album is. The newest release on this list, these guys really have a knack for creating some truly hellish soundscapes peppered with enough dynamics and crescendos to prevent the sort of dull blast beat rut that a lot of black metal songs get stuck in. There’s a particular moment on the “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” that gives me shivers of both awe and terror, an atmospheric breakdown that I can imagine would be the horrifying sound of the flautist servants of Azathoth, and considering the band’s lyrical goals, I can’t think of a higher compliment.
Miles Davis- On the Corner (1971)
In many ways, On the Corner is an underrated album in the Miles Davis canon. It came directly after Bitches Brew, an album which many consider to be his best, and the lauded soundtrack album Jack Johnson. But this is not one to be overlooked. On the Corner sees Davis incorporating hard funk into the jazz fusion and psychedelia that he had been exploring on previous releases. One strange thing is the surprising lack of Davis’s signature trumpet. He actually plays organ more than the trumpet here. What the album lacks in compositional quality, it makes up for in pure kinetic energy. This is one of the most aggressive releases in Davis’s catalogue. The instrumentals are stabbing as opposed to smooth, and the rhythms are much more rigid and hard edged. But in its aggression, it’s much more down to earth than an album like Bitches Brew or even the slightly more accessible In a Silent Way.
The Devin Townsend Project- Ki (2009)
The reason I think Ki is one of Devin Townsend’s most fascinating records is that, unlike just about any of his other projects, it lacks any real structure. Devin Townsend is one of the most meticulous musicians on the planet, and his music usually reflects that by being obsessively arranged. Just about every album in the guy’s extensive catalogue is bound together by some central idea, concept, or even a sound. But this one is one of the loosest and most unfocused pieces of work that he’s ever put his name to. Despite this, I find Ki to be absolutely haunting. The bulk of the album is disconcertingly quiet, but only tentatively so, with a huge amount of pent-up anger simmering underneath, occasionally lashing out with some extremely loud moments in a relatively low flying album. The key example of this is the track “Disruptr”, one of the most masterful uses of tension I’ve ever heard with a couple of fake outs and false climaxes before the whole thing snaps and Hevy Devy as we once knew him is unleashed momentarily before being forced down again. This is an album that plays with discomfort in just about every aspect of life, which makes sense given it was released in the aftermath of Townsend putting his most famous project, Strapping Young Lad, to rest. Despite the underlying dysfunction of the record as a whole, there are some stunningly beautiful pieces of music on Ki, such as the contemplative “Terminal”, the lyrically sparse yet extremely evocative “Winter”, or the breathtaking title track, which goes down as one of the most greatest climaxes for any record in history in my opinion.
Oathbreaker- Rheia (2016)
This album was a yet another case of me just not “getting it” the first time around. When this album came out last, it seemed like everybody and their mother in the underground metal world was raving about it like you wouldn’t believe. I even heard it mentioned on All Songs Considered, and they generally wouldn’t give props to anything harder than your average indie pop song. I took a listen, it didn’t really click, and I moved on. But around March, these guys came to Nashville, and, looking to go to a gig, decided to go. And I must say, they were one of the best live bands I’ve seen in a long time, and it totally changed my perspective on the album. Listening to this in the context of what I saw in that little two hundred-cap venue gives me an appreciation of the emotional intensity of Rheia. Special props go to singer and frontwoman Caro Tanghe, who’s voice sounds inhuman in both a beautiful and terrifying way. Her “freakout” at the end of “Second Son of R.” is one of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever heard in any genre of music.
Electric Wizard- Dopethrone (2001)
I don’t think any artist has ever created a more fitting introduction to an album than the words that open up Dopethrone. It’s a short sample from a 20/20 special recorded during the Satanism panic of the eighties, of all things, with some talking head uttering the now legendary statement: “When you get into one of these groups, there’s only a couple of ways you can get out. One, is death, the other, is mental institutions…” And thus begins one of the most disgusting records to ever grace my ears. The sound Electric Wizard cook up on Dopethrone is absolutely sickening, reveling in every conceivable form of debauchery, from drugs to murder to devil worship, all wrapped up in a thick coating of toxic sludge. Everything is distorted, the guitars, the bass, the vocals, even the drums have an audible layer of fizz over them. The vocals almost seem like an afterthought at times, being buried in a wall of noise that makes even the more cleanly sung parts nearly unintelligible. It’s the riffs that are meant to do the talking here. The real shining moments of the record are the increasingly hypnotic jams in which the band hammer away at you with these massive slabs of sludge guitar drone, often at excruciatingly slow tempos. As a result of these jams, several songs here break the ten minute mark, the most awesome example being the fifteen minute long four movement acid-soaked nightmare that is “Weird Tales”, a song that slowly but inevitably breaks down into a cold synth drone leaving you pondering the punishing musical journey you just went on. Dopethrone is a record that makes you feel like you need a shower once it’s over.
Storm Corrosion- Storm Corrosion (2012)
If I had to point to an album that sparked my love for experimental music, Storm Corrosion probably deserves that honor. I was already a self-proclaimed prog boi back in high school, so when Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth and Steven Wilson, who is equally awesome as the leader of Porcupine Tree and in his solo work, announced a collaborative album under the name Storm Corrossion, I thought we were going to get some massive progressive metal epic. Instead, we got this rustic, atmospheric piece inspired by acid folk from the likes of Comus, the German experimental rock scene of the seventies, and smattering of twentieth century classical music. Everything about Storm Corrosion’s presentation is meant to unnerve the listener, from the disturbing album cover to the twisted music contain within. The standout track is most definitely the opener “Drag Ropes”, a nearly ten minute slow burn that goes through several textural shifts and is overall an incredibly unsettling piece of music full of vague lyrical references to sin and shame and witches being persecuted and hanged. Looking back, while this album may not be as experimental as I may have heard it to be back when it came out (the folk side of the album is very strong even through the more abstract parts of the record, and acoustic guitars are definitely the most prominent instrument), its bizarre sounds and atmospheric approach were quite important in getting me to appreciate non-conventional forms of composition and musical texture.