2017 did not bring faith in humanity politically. Trump sworn in as the President of the US. The UK triggered article 50 starting Brexit Negotiations. Cyberattacks, bombings and shootings, Syrian Civil War, starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, #MeToo campaign revealing the pervasiveness of misogyny, the end of antibiotics coming due to resistant bacteria, climate change now being irreversible... and what about the animals?! mammals, birds, fishes wiped out... critters we will never even get to learn about…
Doom and gloom, I say. Doom and gloom, I play…
Fortunately, 2017 was an adventurous sonic year. I pushed out of my comfort zone, stepping further into an experimental, avant-garde and electronic abyss. In Mutual Grimness top 10 one will find ambient, noise, electronica, industrial, techno, post-metal, psychedelic rock, hip hop and more. Continuing to focus on the dark and heavy, Mutual Grimness goes beyond genre boundaries. For it is the aural euphoria (and dysphoria) I yearn for, not names or genres.
[Listed in an alphabetic order]
1. IIVII – Invasion
The American genius Josh Graham (A Storm of Light, Neurosis, Red Sparowes, Battle of Mice) bestowed upon us his sophomore drone/ambient/electronica album ‘Invasion’ with his solo project IIVII. ‘Invasion’ thematically revolves around alien encounters. When Josh performs live extra-terrestrial slow crawling drones, fractured rhythms and textured electronica are followed by the imagery of a dystopian sci-fi movie. People are eradicated, cities are disintegrated, and the aliens build floating environmental cities. IIVII is a multisensory experience, where feet can dance to a murky narrative of an apocalypse.
2. The Bug vs Earth – Concrete Desert
The UK dancehall/dub veteran Kevin Martin aka The Bug and the American pioneer of drone metal Dylan Carlson have joined forces on ‘Concrete Desert’. To me what distinguishes a good album from an exceptional, is when each and every track is great. Los Angeles inspired ‘Concrete Desert’ lasts an hour and a half, yet I never skip a song. This conceptual monolith piece magically blends Earth’ian drones with the Bug’s industrial dub settings, generating a deep cinematic and at times melancholic feel. Tracks evolve in a floating tempo, drone guitars build up slowly and synths feel uplifting. Songs like ‘Gasoline’, ‘Snakes vs Rats’ and ‘Don’t Walk These Streets’ are pleasantly danceable. Repetitive beats, doom-laden riffs and dub atmospherics commingle with grace and vibrancy. ‘Broke’ brings in Sunn O)))-esque murky texture. The extra version of the song titled ‘Pray’ features the voice of JK Flesh.
3. Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
‘Hiss Spun’ is the sixth album by Chelsea Wolfe, yet the first one where American songwriter dives deep into metal. The track ‘Vex’ features the post-metal legends Aaron Turner (Isis, Sumac) on vocals and Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) on lead guitar (actually, Troy brings much of riffage to Hiss Spun!). My favourite track is the very last one - 'Scrape'. Ominous and unsettling with industrial elements seeping in, ‘Scrape’ unleashes the diabolic side of Wolfe. It is this crushing, bleeding out aura of ‘Hiss Spun’ that makes the album so immediately captivating.
4. Constantine – Hades
As Constantine spent time on the Lesbos Island, the dramatic gateway for thousands of Syrian refugees, he ingeniously documented the biggest human rights crisis in decades in four abstract tracks. Emotive and delicate, ‘Hades’ lies between classical and experimental. The tsunami of drone, electric chitter and the sweetness of the pitched down cello’s compass confirm the magic of electronic and ‘live’ commingling. In a rather sterile dark ambient genre, Greek multi-instrumentalist Constantine reinvents himself through a striking combination of field recordings, noise elements and eerie melodies.
5. Dälek - Endangered Philosophies
‘This is gonna change you, this is gonna change me, this is gonna change...' – sings MC Dälek in the last track of ‘Endangered Philosophies’ – ‘Numb’. And he is completely right! [At least I am turning into a fan of experimental hip hop and that’s quite a change!] Inspired by drone and industrial music, ‘Endangered Philosophies’ is deep, gritty, dirty… and sweet. MC Dälek throws at us intelligent and socially relevant lyrics [Eenvironmental destruction, immigration and perpetual despair of human condition…] supported by industrial menacing soundscapes.
6. Empusae – Lueur
‘Lueur’ is the 17th record by maestro Nicolas Van Meirhaeghe. Unlike in his early works, in ‘Lueur’ Nicolas extensively uses acoustic instruments and layers of vocals. The record consists of two tracks that deal with the survival of a crisis and loss. In the first track piano passages backed by synth drones give a sense of urgency. The vocals of Colin H. van Eeckhaut add to doom and despair. In the second track percussion is soft and fragile like insects cautiously crawling from their shelters. Birds are singing. Crescendo ambient atmospheres lend a spiritual feeling. ‘Lueur’ is a story that had to be told and has to be listened to.
7. Ex Eye – Ex Eye
The debut album by Ex Eye is an excellent fresh air to the post-metal scene. Led by the legendary saxophonist Colin Stetson and prolific drummer Greg Fox, Ex Eye put four bludgeoning tracks of avant-garde jazz metal on our plate. While all four members bring their musical talents with their instruments, it is Colin’s vocals and the most non-traditional way of singing that makes the record so immediately distinctive. Progressive jazz tones combined with triumphant pummelling drums and copious synth, - et voilà – a gut-wrenching sonic maelstrom!
8. Godflesh – Post Self
If I was to name one person who has shaped my taste in music most – that would certainly be Justin Broadrick and his multiple projects. Together with G.C. Green, Broadrick has been pioneering the genre of industrial metal since 1988. Almost 30 years since the birth of Godflesh, the duo produces ‘Post Self’, a full length album exploring themes of anxiety, depression and mortality. As expected, Godflesh show no mercy - relentless drum machine, brutal growls and annihilative bass. Yet ‘Post Self’ is not just another Godflesh record. It strikes me with its atmospheric moments, eerie melodies and singing Jesu-like voice of Justin.
9. SUMS – SUMS
The combination of rawness and elegance, the passionate marriage between electronic music and post-rock, built upon musical legacies of Barry Burns and Kangding Ray. Kangding Ray, a cult producer of darkish conceptual techno and Barry Burns, a multi-intstrumentalist and composer for the Scottish post-rock legends Mogwai, have finally documented their forward thinking project. The EP contains three tracks which fuse Mogwai-esque synths with spatial electronics. In my humble opinion, the record only partly reflects the explosive match between the maestro of techno and the veteran of post-rock. After seeing SUMS live, I am aware how much more the duo has to offer. Having said that, the EP undoubtedly provides a beautiful glimpse of what I believe is one of the most thought-provoking and successful fusion of live and digital produced in 2017.
10. Ufomammut – 8
In an interview a while ago mammoths told me that they have signed a contract with the devil to release at least 20 albums! For now we are blessed with the 8th. Kicking for 18 years, the Italian psychedelic rockers do not stand in the shadow of their magnum opus [meaning ‘ORO: Opus Alter/ORO: Opus Primum’]. To me, ‘8’ goes beyond all previous records. The distorted vocals of Urlo gets more melodic and is a prominent element of the album. Guitars are downtuned and intense, yet exceptionally groovy. Ear-shattering heavy, ‘8’ is a psychedelic masterpiece, which showcases the trio’s creative diversity, bringing Ufomammut to the very top of psychedelic rock bands.