Day 2 of “Post-Metal week” here on the blog. Yesterday, in So What Exactly Is Post-Metal, Anyway? I took a short look at the history and definition of the genre. Today, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite post-metal albums for you to enjoy.
1. Neurosis, Through Silver in Blood, 1996
Crushing and unforgiving, from the first primal notes of the title track, “Through Silver in Blood” to the final, fatal hymn of “Enclosure in Flame”, Neurosis have you in their grasp, and they’re not letting go. The vocals on tracks like “Through Silver in Blood” and “Locust Fury” showcase an intense, primal fury. When you couple that with the intense and melancholic aggression of the music, which at times is almost tribal in structure and timbre, you end up with a soundscape of songs so entrancing and fascinating in structure and sound that listening to it cannot fail but become an emotional experience. Every post metal band that has come after is, in their own way, attempting to recreate the magnificence that is Through Silver in Blood.
2. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, 2000
Technically, these guys are post-rock, not post-metal, but they were the first band of this ilk I ever heard (someone mentioned their name on a forum and it was memorable enough I searched for them later and got hooked) and so, to me, their albums are an important part of the whole “post- …” experience. Likewise, as Lift your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven was the first post-rock album I heard, it’s forever etched in my mind as a favourite.
The album contains only four tracks, each one comprised of intricate movements that combine to create a connected narrative. This is an instrumental album, with only a few sampled voice inserts adding another layer of sonic verbosity. The sound is long, drawn-out into hypnotising and often startling compositions. A masterful cinematic experience.
3. Isis, Panopticon, 2004
Although Oceanic was arguably Isis’ most influential record, as it was one of the founding albums of the entire post-metal genre, Panopticon is my favourite from their catalogue. On this album Isis take what they’ve created on Oceanic and give it a new depth and richness. The instruments sound as if they’re submerged in a watery grave, and the whole album is saturated with smooth, velvety avant-garde soundscapes. Being post-metal, of course the album is thematically linked via Foucault’s Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (I mean, duh!) but don’t let that put you off, this is an album that washes over you, carrying you out to sea.
Isis came to NZ in 2010, and I’m still kicking myself I didn’t go and see them.
4. Russian Circles, Memorial, 2009
I’m a recent convert to Russian Circles, listening to them for the first time when I saw Memorial had guest vocals from Chelsea Wolfe. To me, this album is the best of their thoroughly excellent catalogue. Darker than other releases, this album has a sombre, restrained beauty to it, but it’s also by far Russian Circles’ heaviest album to date. This Chicago trio have shown themselves more than capable of standing among the greats of this genre.
5. Red Sparowes, Every Red Heart Shines Toward the Red Sun, 2006
What drew me to this album initially was the story behind the concept: the album follows the story of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, the campaign to transform China through rapid industrialisation that led to the Great Chinese Famine. As part of this, peasants were encouraged to attack and kill sparrows eating their crops (this is called the great sparrow campaign). Although the following year enjoyed a bumper harvest, the country was beset by an unusually high number of locusts (sparrows eat locusts), which helped to contribute to the famine.
Anyway, enough history, on to the music. This is probably technically another “post-rock” album, rather than post-metal, but I’m not so fussed about the distinction between them. It’s not quite as dark as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but there’s a definite balanced melancholia about this record. The story of the sparrows is told truthful and hauntingly through the music.
6. Pelican, Australasia, 2003
What I love about Pelican is the way they balance post-metal’s soaring soundscapes and epic build-up with the chugging darkness of sludge metal. The sound is colossal – a monolith of resonant, expansive guitars, creative percussion and harrowing, doom-laden compositions. With their music Pelican paint a vivid image of the landscape of Australia and the surrounding areas, using swelling movements and intricate melodies to move through that landscape. Pelican made sludge original again.
7. Alcest – Les Voyages de l’Âme, 2012
I’m discovering that post-metal is very hard to describe without using a crap-ton of overworked adjectives. Sorry about that. Les Voyages de l’Âme is Alcest’s 3rd studio album, and marks this French musician’s metamorphosis from an atmospheric black metal act into a fully fledged post-metal/shoegaze trip instrumentalist (although it’s not until 2014s Shelter that the black metal influence is stripped completely). Alcest is essentially a solo project from Naige, who writes the music based on childhood memories of an “otherworld” he visited, which he often refers to as a Fairy Land. What I enjoy about this record is the way the world of faerie is portrayed through music – not so sinister as it is haunting and hypnotic. It’s a bit like the scene from Fellowship of the Ring where the fellowship visit Lothlorien – although it is beautiful, that beauty is tinged with an inescapable depth.
8. Tombs, Path of Totality, 2011
I spoke highly of this album a few years ago, when I placed it in my Top Ten Metal Albums of 2011 list, and four years later, it still resonates with me. As I said in that article, this album basically consists of taking straight black metal, removing everything about it that sucks, and jamming it all together with a dash of funeral doom, a smattering of dark wave gothic, and all the despair of humankind’s existence. This album is stunning in its complexity and emotional resonance, with lyrics reflecting upon the experiences of death and atmosphere created from the soft, fuzzy guitar sections and primal, visceral riffs. It is a shining star in an ever-expanding world of post-metal.
9. maudlin of the Well, Part the Second, 2009
Part the Second was an album entirely funded by fan donations and released online for free, showing how tight-knit and supportive this Boston band’s audience are. Described as an “avant-garde” band that heavily incorporate post-metal alongside a slew of other influences, maudlin of the Well are a law unto themselves. Lyrical and musical themes deal mainly with astral projection (their music being reportedly brought back from another plane during astral trips taken from the band), and listening to the resulting music kind of makes you feel as if you’re outside yourself. The music is very floaty and ethereal, and unlike previous releases, there’s no death growls. This is probably the most far-out-there release on my list, but it’s also probably my favourite, so I encourage you to give it a listen.
10. Cult of Luna, Salvation, 2004
Sweden’s Cult of Luna are one of the stalwart bands of the genre, and their 2004 release, Salvation, is the turning point in their sound, where they moved from a basic doom metal band into something entirely different. Long, slow songs crush you with their beauty and power – the music rises through each movement, reaching a climactic crescendo before falling away again. The music alternatives between heavy riffs, orchestral interludes and drawn-out post-rock passages. Salvation is one of the few albums created that I’d consider giving a 10/10 rating to. It’s simply stunning.
There are plenty of other stunning post metal albums you should check out; Irepress – Sol Eye Sea I, Latitudes – The Agonist, The Ocean – Fluxion, Hull – Viking Funeral, Dirge – Elysian Magnetic Fields … but these ten are my personal favourites, and I’d love you to share your favourites in the comments, or on Facebook.
The Sunken, my dark fantasy novel, is now available on Amazon.
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