We at Deaf Sparrow pride ourselves on picking out things you probably never heard of, you know, so we can seem more elite than the rest. Seriously, though, the whole idea here is to avoid pandering to big bands because it gives us more hits, unless they deserve it, and to focus more on giving anyone who sends us shit the proper time and attention, positive or negative. Right now, like every other year we've been doing this, we decided to focus on the positive. We once considered doing a 'Worst Of' but realized it was probably not a good idea. The opposite, however, is, so let us show you our picks for the 13 best albums of 2012. Picking 13 has nothing to do with our previously mentioned coolness, we just couldn't pick any less and that's how the numbers added up. We're too cool for kvlt.
LASTER, Wiojsgeer ende Narreman (Dunkelheit) Strictly speaking, Wijsgeer ende Narreman is the debut demo from Dutch duo Laster, but good luck thinking of this recording as a demo. A recording with this caliber of songwriting, execution and production needs to be judged on a higher scale. So let’s call this one of the best EPs of 2012. Wijsgeer ende Narreman consists of three glorious pieces of melancholic black metal in the spirit of early Drudkh and Burzum’s Filosofem. The moody riffs will sweep you away with their emotive potency and the subtle ebbs and flows of the compositions will draw you into beautiful fits of reminiscence. With only three songs clocking in at 19 minutes, Wijsgeer ende Narreman is definitely a tease, but even in that small time frame, Laster manages to take the listener on a brief but compelling journey. Keep an eye out for this group in the future, because if this is what its demo sounds like, there’s no telling how good its full lengths can be.
SUJO, Terran (Inam) Here's some black metal, but yay, without all that tremolo dragon claw corpse paint vampire something rather. Also without the Dissection worship that was, let's face it, not that good in the first place. One of the most difficult angles to work in this genre is ambient. Deaf Sparrow has come across several so-called ambient black metal acts, all terrible, except this one. This one completely defines everything ambient black metal should be. Terran is by all measures the most frozen and depressing thing you're ever going to hear. Not since sepsis has something so poisonous to the blood endangered the human race, but Sujo doesn't do it with blood, pus, or gore. They do it with tragedy. They are playing Macbeth among a horde of bands playing Cats. The CD itself is completely, literally black and only 40 were even made, but it's so fucking cult spelling it with a 'k' and 'v' would require a new law, which would easily pass unanimously in the House and the Senate in a single day without deliberation. Terran is bleak done right. The atmosphere conjures weather, the vocals have a haunting, electronic quality to them, bolstered by unorthodox drums, in the sense of their recorded quality and overall delivery, and guitars that would make any drone band commit suicide without leaving a note. Well, maybe not, they'd probably just have Terransitting next to their lifeless bodies, and it would say enough. Why did they do it? Didn't you see what's left on the ground? Oh, shit, yeah that makes sense. The cohesion here is another strong point, with songs leading into each other without becoming lost, separate, yet not, but definitely depressed. Intense through its icy approach, this is one only true fans of black metal and ambient dare touch. It deserves a more wide rerelease.
DEGIAL, Death's Striking Winds (Sepulchral Voice) Degial are just mighty fine. Death’s Striking Wings, their full-length debut is an astonishing display of death metal that doesn’t sound all that Swedish. The band is from Uppsala and was initially conceived as Degial of Embos. Apparently, after evolution came an upgrade in moniker and voila, if only Morbid angel were making death metal this strong these days they wouldn’t be the poster middle age men for ridiculous that they are now. Death’s Striking Wings is steadily fast and quite technical, but there is something unsettling about their changes, about the many times this band rethinks its riffs and build ups. Nevermind that all these riffs are ugly as hell. Aware of their chops and wanting us to note their effort, the record features clean, clear and strong production work that is all but what we might expect from a Swedish band of death metal fellas.
FURIA, Marzannie, Krolowej Polski (Pagan) The Polish quartet Furia play harsh, cold and unforgiving black metal that combines elements of the Norwegian second wave with denser Eastern European styles (think late Hate Forest). Furia draw out a depressive mood, not through appeal to sentimentality, but rather through creating an inhospitable atmosphere that lets up about as often as the snow in North East Poland. Marzannie, Królowej Polski, Furia’s third full length, is less like a blizzard and more like a continuous snowfall that gradually hardens your heart. While most of the music centers on cold, alienating, buzz -saw riffs, Furia mix it up with a fair share of melodic and clean passages. The song structures are mostly nonlinear and tend to focus on dramatic buildup over the course of a song. The musicianship is very strong—with the rhythm section especially standing out—and Nihil’s gruff, burly vocals sound as if they will drag you into his namesake. If you’ve been yearning for black metal that sticks to the roots while still cultivating a distinct sound, then Marzannie, Królowej Polski is your saving grace.
ELKS, Destined for the Sun (Tee Pee) Here's some doom metal, but without the stupid weed and Dune references that make it clear they never even smoked a candy cigarette or read in their entire lives. ELKS avoid that Templar bong party line and lace their infectious sludge with incredibly detailed imagery in all CAPS negating our sense of netiquette. In modern doom, acts like this are sadly too far and few between. It's all usually typical to the point that you can anticipate every cord and lyric. The sound of Destined for the Sun, however, is pleasingly corrupt yet you recognize what's being played, and the vocals are carefully layered over each other at times with a slight bite of hardcore edge, topped with a crazy-ass story involving a space colony that gets knocked off course by a rift wurm, which causes them to become a society of space vikings, just not in the cliched sense. Some bands sing about the usual doom cut-and-paste high with bud so poorly cut they don't even have the energy to eat a single Dorrito. ELKS are way past that mark, if they have smoked weed it was so heavily their lungs are probably spilling over with tar to the point that they don't give half a shit to sing about it, but you can still hear it. In an age when it's all about the same bullshit Zepplin wasn't even sure of back in the day, Destined for the Sun is an awesome wake-up call from one of the most awesome labels in history. We had several submissions from Tee Pee this past year, but this is easily the best.
REVEAL, Nocturne of Eyes and Teeth (Invictus) OK, Reveal’s Nocturne of Eyes and Teeth is from 2011, but did it happen to make any Best of’s that year? If so, let us know where so we can suck off the author. Nocturne of Eyes and Teeth was first released on vinyl only through High Roller Records in Europe, which may have worked very well for the Swedes’ cult status but those who looked for it were shit out of luck soon after its release. This year, the wise men of Invictus Productions were kind enough to give it the CD treatment and what a delight this is. Reveal are bizarre, old school blackened death metal without double bass drumming for a fucking change and a vocalist who sounds like a spooky ghost. On top of that this quartet from Uppsala adds atmosphere by indulging in subtle noise experiments that give the music some type of 80’sci fi angle. No shit, this is the most underrated metal band of our age. Listen up or fuck off!
HAIL SPIRIT NOIR, Pneuma (Code 666) Hail Spirit Noir is a progressive black metal band that takes the “progressive” adjective seriously. If Rick Wakeman, Peter Hammill and the guys from Gentle Giant created a black metal album it would probably sound a lot like Pneuma. The album is characterized by odd time signatures, song structures that require a map, a plethora of organs and mellotrons, and a healthy dose of psyched out acoustic passages. Still, this is sufficiently metallic, with loads of nasty, contorted guitar and bass lines that gyrate in all sorts of unpredictable directions. The vocals are split between shivering, theatric clean vocals that sound like a Grecian Peter Hammill and psychotic, gruff growls. All of these moments of disjunction result in a truly schizophrenic recording. And yes, the album cover does show an image of a two faced devil whose tongue doubles as his cock. Fitting, since listening to this album feels like some God-forbidden fusion of a feast, orgy and séance.
KEVIN HUFNAGEL, Transparencies (Nighfloat) It's satisfying that we can flesh out our 'Best Of' roster now with something that isn't metal at all, not even close to punk, and would make a hardcore fan jump off a cliff, doing that interpretative arm-flailing dance thing to themselves all the way down to the ground. What's with all this flailing and writhing without physical contact anyway? But that's totally a tangent and is not doing this genius justice. Kevin Hufnagel is a surprising musician. If we'd tell you he actually had something to do with Gorguts you'd probably think his attempt at ambient/experimental, Transparencies, would be the greatest of jokes. You'd expect he'd have no fucking clue what he was doing with this kind of music. But you couldn't be more wrong. Hufnagel has achieved what few modern ambient musicians can, substance. It's not just about pressing a key, using some effects pedals, and throwing it together with titles that force meaning onto meaninglessness. It's about creating moods through music, bringing forth emotions we may not want to experience but through which we enjoy the catharsis. Transparencies is purity of equipment as well; it's clear he has every bit of an idea of how to use whatever it is he used. The wide variety of sounds and feelings generated through these soundscapes is impressive. No two songs sound the same, no two sound like he's exhausted his means. If anything he hasn't even reached a 16th of what he's probably going to do in the future. We actually mentioned previously that if this one came in soon enough it would have been in our 'Best of 2011'. It should have been, but since it wasn't it gets its earned spot here. We could have done it again and it wouldn't have mattered because it deserves it. If you're looking to hear some ambient that displays what's good about the genre, Transparencies is a complete library on a single disc.
ALUK TODOLO, Occult Rock (Ajna Offensive)Occult Rock may have been Aluk Todolo’s most ambitious work yet, however it shall be duly noted that it is also their most accessible. Those familiar with past works were undoubtedly picked up by the massive left field noise this trio generated and while some may have been put off by the overwhelming metal quotient of Occult Rock, more were undoubtedly hooked by this their most solid and coherent work to date. In a few words, Aluk Todolo are just motherfucking massive and Occult Rock is a near masterpiece. Aluk Todolo's dark and brooding approach is based on massive beats and throbbing basslines, the guitars typically weave above in a wide range and the result is earth shaking, nerve-tensing noise. At over 70 minutes Occult Rock is like kraut rock for those who can't deal with softness, it's also hardly easy to digest, but those willing to be absorbed shall be rewarded with one of the most pleasant auditory experiences of the last few years.
ERAAS, Self-Titled (101) ERAAS’s debut is a collection of pulsating cuts of darkwave that conjure powerful moods and vivid atmospheres. ERAAS develops a heavily textured sound by carefully interweaving electronic and the acoustic elements. The foundation of the album is low tribal percussion and thumping bass, which repeat patterns with techno-like precision, yet they maintain an organic sound quality. Those fundamental beats are draped in layers of electronic ambiance, echoed piano and sky-scraping guitars. Then there are the delectable vocal hooks; you will be singing the choruses to “At Heart,” “Skinning” and “Briar Path” for days, even if aren’t actually sure what the lyrics are. That combination of accessibility and obscurity is the beauty of this record; it gives you just enough to draw you in, but maintains a mystique and distance that draws you back time after time.
THE KILIMANJARO DARKJAZZ ENSEMBLE, From the Stairwell (Denovali) We here at Deaf Sparrow are proud to learn word about our openness to review anything has finally entered this past year into the realm of blackened jazz, if you can put those two terms together. If not, we just did, cut, print, copyright. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble consists of one of the most impressive line-ups in underground history. The members have the kind of backgrounds that would make Guy Maddin piss down his pant legs and rethink his career. In From the Stairwell, these masters of eerieness-through-the-traditional take you on a trip through life represented by a damp, musty cellar that gets darker the further you descend. It's hard to encapsulate the sound of this album with words, but they pretty much do it themselves with track titles such as "Giallo", taking its presence from an Italian film/literature genre with a focus on erotic horror. Remember that legendary slasher flick Torso? Well, look that up, read up on it, and then imagine a song made out of it. There are so many beautifully dark images brought up by listening to this one that it's worth it for fans of dark music, especially ambient, who may never give such a band like this the chance simply because they see the word "jazz" in the title. For jazz fans, these guys present something refreshing, something that makes it nice to listen to in the dark, lonely, heavy liquor pouring down your shirt as you watch some silent era shit on TCM with the sound off. From the Stairwell presents the dark side of jazz in the most perfect way. Awesome stuff.
SAMOTHRACE, Reverence to Stone (20 Buck Spin) Samothrace are the new kings of American doom. Well, at least if that year Yob didn’t bother to put anything out then these Seattle quartet has the slot reserved. Their second full-length Reverence to Stone is a gorgeous piece of slow metal. Comprised of two equally touching tracks, one clocking over 14 and the other over 20 minutes, the recording exalts every trait first exposed in their stunning debut Life’s Trade; a gift for subtle melodies and a the fattest guitar tone this side of the pond. reverence to Stone connects all the dots though, flowing with rhythms, moving seamlessly instead of ever stopping. It's all done at an agonizing pace and with impressive energy. Seriously, these guys may only touch their strings about once a minute but every note is so melodic and harmonious that their songs have the sort of impact of a good pop tune. It is impossible not to stomp your feet at the beat of Samothrace.
INDIAN HANDCRAFTS, Self-Titled (Self-Released) Our new review-girl from the frozen wastes of Russia, Alyssa, raved about this one. She raved about it like a girl. That would probably turn some guys off, or well, maybe not, it actually would probably turn most of you on. A girl that listens to music like this? Holy shit... PM me pls, pls.... Indian Handcrafts is another example of our spreading into other underground genres. This self-titled self-release has all the hallmarks of hipster, but avoids the vinyl obsession satisfied through Urban Outfitters' poor selection and instead caters a lot more to those weirdos of us out there that peruse thrift stores for the shit and have been for the past thirty years. It's difficult to figure out what Indian Handcrafts is about at times, there's a certain goofiness to their music, but more in the vein of Boredoms in their early years, something that you laugh at occasionally, but take seriously, while at other times are perhaps a little frightened by. It's only a two-piece with drums and guitar, but holy living hell can these guys pull out every possible stop to bleed sound out of that! There are a number of these types of bands; bass/drums or guitar/drums, but Indian Handcrafts excel at a level that would make the more intelligent of Lightning Bolt fans realize those guys are actually a pile of shit. They can't write, and they can barely do more than play the same four notes over and over. Indian Handcrafts have taken that sort of idea and done what needs to be done with it. They write these things called songs. They sing, effectively, and they do it with variety. Bridging several underground acts and styles into one awesome release, this self-titled is one to check out for those of you who want to be a little cooler than a Lightning Bolt fan. Actually, a lot cooler. A full-length with Sargent House is in the works, so start here before everyone else learns about them.