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Best of ’08 : Putting the “Festive” back into “Festive Season”

Posted in YTAH by YTAH on December 23, 2008
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A new fan of metal.

A new fan of metal.

I’ve never been much of a metal fan, but I’ve been introduced to a wide selection over this last year, courtesy of the X-Fest and the HorrorFest, where I scored some nifty freebies by attending every goddamn screening possible. Thanks to said freebies, and lots of time spent hanging out with Pinvictor, I’ve discovered that I actually like metal – as long as it’s melodic. By the same token, I find that while I listen to both classical music and metal, I simply can’t abide it when they’re combined. Call it misplaced purism, but it bugs the shit out of me. Female vocals are okay, Midnattsol, but I draw the line at a full-on orchestra and operatic vocals (we’re looking at you, Nightwish and Hollenthon).

So counting down from 10, here is my list of the best new albums from 2008. I recommend you enqueue all of these albums and press Shuffle, for a DIY festive season mix that kicks the shit out of your average pop idol, waits for them to recover and then kicks the shit out of them again. Eat your bitchy little hearts out children, because suddenly it’s…

10. Midnattsol – Nordlys. As close to opera as I like my metal, thank you very much. An appropriate song for the season is “Northern Lights” about the Aurora Borealis, which you’d see regularly if you were the debased capitalist reincarnation of an old Norse god. (How many love songs have a rockin’ beat like that then, hey?) Similarly, listening to “Wintertime” ought to put you in the appropriate end-of-year mood better than any lacklustre Christmas cash-in album by the ingénue of the month.

09. Fimbultyr – Gryende Tidevarv. How many metal bands would start an album with a country-influenced tune that sounds like it dropped off the soundtrack from some anime western? And how many would follow it immediately with a full-frontal death metal aural assault? And how many of those do you think could pull it off? Well these guys do, which is frankly astonishing. Can’t understand a word, of course, but great shit notwithstanding.

08. Holy Blood – The Patriot. Black metal, meet Flutes. Flutes, meet… There aren’t many metal bands who can break out the folk instruments without turning into Blackmore’s Night, but these guys pull it off marvellously – whether heralding the arrival of morning on a beach (“Meeting the Sunrise”) or invoking soldiers on the march (“The Patriot”). Also, if you’re feeling Xmassy and you don’t have the requisite carollers handy, give the “Blood of Christ” a spin and discover the true meaning of this season: a low growl and soaring vampire vocals over an organ riff that would make the Count himself sit up and smile his toothiest.

07. Kiuas – The New Dark Age. By far the highlight from this album is “The Summoning”, which is (sadly) the only time they channel their inner 80s hair-metal band. Similarly, “The Wanderer’s Lament” sounds like that old staple of 80s music generally, the so-called power ballad – if it was written and performed by people who had any balls or talent whatsoever. The effect is helped by the tightness of the performance and song-writing, effectively scuppering any hint of bloat. And pay close attention to what they’re doing with on guitars and drums and you’ll soon be as impressed as I was.

06. Oomph! – Monster. This band sounds like their Teutonic brethren Rammstein, if Till Lindemann and Co. were in the habit of singing twisted versions of Grimm’s fairytales. Highlights include “Labyrinth”, “Wer Schön Sein Will Muss Leiden”, and “Lass Mich Raus” – the latter being the heart-warming story of someone being born. (“Mother, spread your legs, release me…”) Pure class! What more do you want from a metal band? How about hints of Depeche Mode’s goth-pop tech savvy, like on “Revolution”, or the occasional tango interlude. Catchy as fuck.

05. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! A fine return to fuck-you form for the man of many projects. Between doing movie soundtracks (The Proposition, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Road), scriptwriting (Death of a Ladies’ Man, 2009) and winding up his inner Grinderman, Mr Cave also found time to record another gung-ho record with the band that carries his name. With tracks like “Albert Goes West” and the stellar title track, not to mention song titles like “Lie Down There and Be My Girl”, this is a spectacular return to form for our antipodean friends.

04. Die Apokalyptischen Reiter – Licht. “… And a rocking good time was had by all.” Again on the pop side of the metal spectrum, this band delivers an upbeat romp through various songs that, in another world, would have been real club anthems. Depends which clubs you go to, I suppose. “Es Wird Schlimmer” and “Adrenalin” put the vocalist’s versatility to good use. When not snarling in German, they show a winning way with a rousing chorus. Not so much “weighty” as “luminous”.

03. Asian Dub Foundation – Punkara. Not a metal or rock album as such, but a fine rockin’ listen nonetheless. Punk meets political awareness and a decent rhythm in “Living Under the Radar”, “Burning Fence”, and “Target Practice”, all of which are songs for our time. Special Kudo Bonus Points (SKBPs) for their damn funky cover of The Stooges’ “No Fun” – and frankly, what better anthem/theme/lament for one of the longest years in living memory. (Has any year so thoroughly and entirely failed to end at the right time?)

02. Amon Amarth – Twilight of the Thunder God. Distinctively heavier than their Teutonic brethren, the killer title track that opens the album serves as a good primer to the great tunes that follow. Particular standouts include “The Hero”, “Tattered Banners and Bloody Flags”, and “Live For the Kill”. But hey, don’t take my word for it – Pinvictor rates them even higher than I do.

and the Number 1 spot goes to…

01. Korpiklaani – Korven Kuningas.
By far my favourite metal discovery this year. Although Korven Kuningas isn’t my favourite album from this band, it features enough of the intriguing folk influences I find so appealing about their music. This encompasses everything from what sounds like Native American chants (on “Northern Fall”) to marching flutes (the more pensive “Syntykoski Syommehessain”). This album is going to be playing on repeat over the entire Christmas season, if only because Belphegor’s Bondage Goat Zombie was recorded in English and I still can’t abide stupid lyrics (even if they’re foreign, or written by metalheads). Other standout tracks from this album include the instrumental “Shall We Take a Turn?”, which is followed by the even more jolly (there’s no other word) “Paljon on Koskessa Kivia”. And on “Runamoine” they deliver an anthem that gives Oomph! and Reiter a run for their money. As metal goes, this is pure gold. Finnish and klaar.

Merry Xmas, bitches!

Merry Xmas, bitches!

[Originally published on africans.co.za on Tuesday, December 23, 2008.]

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